The Mavericks and Pythagorean Wins

by Matt Scribbins 21. June 2011 08:33

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 Pythagorean wins

A great predictor of NBA playoff success is regular season point differential. The key word is predictor, and sometimes predictions are wrong. If you are a believer in the wonders of point differentials, Dallas just became one of the most improbable championship teams since 1990.

Pythagorean wins is a wonderful statistic that converts scoring differentials into a predicted win-loss record. The statistic can show, among other things, teams that over/under perform, win/lose numerous close games, or just experience good/bad luck.

The 2011 Dallas Mavericks were a team who dominated in close games, and their Finals opponent was lambasted all season for their perceived inability to do the same. The Mavericks’ scoring differential indicated they should have won 53 games, and Miami’s differential indicated they should have won 61. In reality, the Mavs won 57 games, and the Heat won 58.

I went through the data from every Finals matchup since 1990 to highlight some trends:

1990 - 2010  (excluding 1999)

 

Champs

2nd Place

AVG Actual Wins

60.2

56.95

AVG P Wins

59.75

56.85

 *1999 is omitted due to shortened season*

2010-2011 Regular Season

 

Miami

Dallas

Actual Wins

58

57

P Wins

61

53

The Mavericks finished with four fewer Pythagorean wins than the average 2nd place team, and the Heat outdid the average champion by one Pythagorean win.  Clearly, the Heat matched more closely the profile of teams that hoisted the trophy, and the Mavericks had a profile similar to a runner-up. In fact, the 1997 Utah Jazz, who lost in the Finals to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, are the only runner-up to post more Pythagorean wins than the 2011 Miami Heat.


To the Overachievers Go the Spoils

Biggest Differences

 

Winner

Loser

P Wins

1995

Houston

Orlando

-12

2011

Dallas

Miami

-8

1994

Houston

New York

-7

2006

Miami

Dallas

-6

 The two recent series between the Mavericks and Heat crowned the team who actually had considerably fewer Pythagorean wins. The only other recent champions to record fewer Pythagorean wins than their Finals opponent are the ’94 and ’95 Rockets and the ’01 Lakers. The Rockets repeat team actually posted the fewest actual wins (47) and Pythagorean wins (47) of any champion since 1990.

 

They Did it Their Way

Rank Among Champs (1990-2011)

Actual Wins

15*

P Wins

17*

O Rating

9*

D Rating

19

EFG%

2

TOV%

14*

ORB%

23

FTR

14

OPP EFG%

18*

OPP TOV%

19*

DEF REB%

3

OPP FTR

9

 

* Indicates tie

The chart paints a fairly clear picture: the Mavericks were one of the most successful shooting teams in recent history. EFG% is considered the most important of Dean Oliver’s Four Factors, and the Mavericks were utterly dominant by this measure. The aforementioned ‘95 Rockets were the only unit to shoot better than the ‘11 Mavericks. Conversely, the defense for Dallas ranked just 18th among recent champions in opponents’ EFG%.

The Mavericks found themselves in the latter half of the pack in other important categories too (offensive rating, defensive rating, TOV%, etc.). However, rule changes and styles of play make some comparisons less than ideal.

 

Everything is Bigger in Texas

Year

Team

Margin

2003

Spurs

10

1994

Rockets

8

2011

Mavericks

7

 

Next, let’s take a look at Pythagorean win – actual win margin. The Mavericks exceeded their Pythagorean win total by four victories, and the Heat fell three games short of their Pythagorean win total (4- -3 = 7).

The only two champions since 1990 to experience a larger positive margin represent the other points of the Texas Triangle. The 2003 Spurs had three more actual wins than Pythagorean wins, and their Finals opponent, New Jersey, had seven fewer. In 1994, the Rockets had five more actual wins than Pythagorean wins, and their opponent, the Knicks, fell short of their Pythagorean win total by three games. 

Margin doesn’t appear to tell us very much as 11 champions since 1990 have had a positive number. The largest negative margin (-9) belongs to the 2004 Detroit Pistons, who crushed the Lakers quest for a four-peat. The Lakers outperformed their Pythagorean record by four victories, and the Pistons underperformed theirs by five wins.

 

“Houston, we have a lot in common.”

The 1995 Houston Rockets and the 2011 Dallas Mavericks shared many characteristics during their championship season. Both Texas teams featured underrated foreign superstars and faced a Finals opponent that had a significantly better scoring differential. Also, they prevailed in the Finals over teams from Florida that featured all-time great players in the midst of their peaks.

 

O Rating

EFG%

OPP EFG%

OPP TOV%

OPP FTR

2011 Mavs

109.7

0.525

0.488

0.130

0.206

1995 Rockets

109.7

0.529

0.489

0.139

0.199

The Mavericks made their money by making a historic percentage of their shots, but the ’95 Rockets are the only champion who manufactured a better EFG% during their regular season.

Do you remember the Mavericks relatively poor performance in opponents EFG%? Well, the Rockets were one of the only recent champions to post an inferior percentage.

 

Hoarders: NBA Edition

Scoring differential (Pythagorean wins) has historically predicted winners of the NBA Finals at an extremely high rate. Additionally, teams with a great record in close games have met their Waterloo before grabbing the trophy. In 2011, these scenarios were reversed and a team with a superb scoring margin was beat by a group who consistently eked out close victories.

We can speculate about some factors that probably influenced the Mavericks record in close games. For example, it is not uncommon during the regular season to see talented teams coast through 43 minutes of a game and then turn on the jets to shatter an inferior opponent (just watch the Timberwolves). Games like these would result in a win for Dallas, but the margin of victory would not reflect their true talent level. Reducing a game to five minutes of fury seems like a risky strategy, but it may be a sage, energy saving approach for a veteran team like Dallas.

Using the championship teams as a point of reference, let’s examine records in games decided by two points or fewer since the Mavericks Finals appearance in 2006.

Games Decided by 2 Points or Fewer (07-11)

 

Win

Loss

Win %

Mavericks

32

14

69.6%

Spurs

21

15

58.3%

Lakers

20

20

50.0%

Celtics

21

26

44.7%

It seems like the Mavericks have consistently won games in situations where other teams’ fates are basically decided by the flip of a coin. How did they do it?

The Mavericks appeared to utilize unprecedented information to build their title team. Mark Cuban said on his blog on October 10, 2010:

“The input of numbers into building a team is diminishing and being displaced by non traditional qualitative factors (…) You can try to understand both coaching and chemistry, and we continue to experiment with new ways to do so, but you can’t quantify either (...) Of course there are other elements that we are rapidly expanding at the Mavs that go into our team-building methodology, but I’m keeping all that to myself.”

He really is. Henry Abbot’s recent post on Truehoop discussed three vital members of the Mavericks staff (assistant coach, psychologist, and analyst). Roland Beech, the team’s analyst and founder of 82games.com, frequently discusses strategy with the coaching staff and even gets the privilege of sitting behind the bench during games. As influential as Beech is, the team’s psychologist and unheralded assistant coach may have equally impactful roles.

The Mavericks reached the mountain top with a progressive route, and it is a sure bet that other NBA teams will try to emulate their strategy. We don’t know for sure what the Mavericks do behind the scenes, but a championship banner in American Airlines Center will prove their efforts were worthwhile.

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Dallas Mavericks...World Champions

by Jeff Fogle 13. June 2011 01:10

Against a playoff slate that supposedly had them outmatched, the Dallas Mavericks went 16-5 versus the Portland Trailblazers, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Miami Heat (8-2 on the road!). They sent Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol home. They sent Kevin Durant home. Sunday night, they sent LeBron James and Dwyane Wade home. Thanks to a multi-faceted offense with inside and outside threats...and creatively disruptive defensive schematics that CONSTANTLY forced opposing stars to shoot from outside their comfort zones...the Mavericks presented a 21-game clinic that may change the way basketball is played across the NBA...

You can give the ball to your star and get out of the way. Or, you can run an offense that gets your best shooters good looks from their favorite spots.

You can hope your toughest defender can deny the stud on the other team. Or, you can study the strengths and weaknesses of every opposing player, every schematic, and every style to keep other teams from running their preferred attacks.

Chess in sneakers beat hero ball. (And Ghidorah never was "King of the Monsters!")

DALLAS 105, MIAMI 95
2-point pct: Dallas 54%, Miami 55%
3-pointers: Dallas 11/26, Miami 7/23
Free Throws: Dallas 12/18, Miami 20/33
Rebounds: Dallas 40, Miami 39
Turnovers: Dallas 14, Miami 16
1's and 2's: Dallas 72, Miami 74

The various post-mortems for the game and the series have discussed the emotions...what it means for Dirk or what it means for LeBron...what it's like to be hated or what it's like to be loved...it's great that so many reporters can keep asking the same questions about WHAT EVERYTHING MEANS! This is HoopData. Let's look at a few stats. I'll try and put together a post-mortem later in the week that goes into even further depth in terms of shot locations, strategies, etc...

TREYS
Miami led this stat in composite by a 30-27 margin after four games. The Heat had not only neutralized a stat that was supposed to provide an edge for Dallas...they were picking up extra points from long range.

Game Five: Dallas 13, Miami 8
Game Six: Dallas 11, Miami 7

That's +15 and +12 points from behind the arc in a series that had little margin for error. Miami couldn't make up the difference.

TURNOVERS
Miami led this stat in composite 32-43 after the first three games. Dallas is in big trouble when they lose the turnover category because it's easy for an opponent like Miami to turn those miscues into instant points. Again, there's not much margin or error in a series like this. Miami was up two games to one because they weren't getting beat on treys and they were picking up some extra points in transition.

Game Four: Dallas 10, Miami 13
Game Five: Dallas 11, Miami 16
Game Six: Dallas 14, Miami 16

So, it was 32-43 for Miami in the first three games (lower is better), but then 35-45 for Dallas in the last three. The Mavericks stopped making turnovers...and won three games in a row. You know, it would have been nice if one of the few dozen questions about what it "felt" like in the post-game press conference could have instead been about WHY MIAMI TURNED INTO A TURNOVER-MAKING MACHINE IN THE LAST THREE GAMES!

CRUNCH TIME SCORING
This wasn't an issue in Sunday's Game Six because Dallas had already built a 10-point lead through the first 42 minutes of the game. They just had to hold on, and they did. But, it's still astonishing that one team could dominate another to such an extreme degree in the last six minutes of game action over the course of the full series.

Game One: Miami 17, Dallas 15
Game Two: Dallas 20, Miami 5
Game Three: Dallas 12, Miami 7
Game Four: Dallas 11, Miami 5
Game Five: Dallas 17, Miami 9
Game Six: Dalas 11, Miami 11

Total: Dallas 86, Miami 54

That's +32 points in 36 minutes of action. Pro-rate it to a 48-minute game, and Dallas wins 115-72. Crunch time dominance of this magnitude wasn't supposed to be possible. Not only was it possible. It was the series UNDERDOG that was doing the dominating.

LEBRON'S DISAPPEARANCE
Don't want to get into any guesses about emotions or character. I do think that the numerical represenation of LeBron's sudden passiveness is an important part of the story.

Round One: 16.2 shots per game vs. Philadelphia
Round Two: 21.6 shots per game vs. Boston
East Finals: 18.8 shots per game vs. Chicago
NBA Finals: 15.0 shots per game vs. Dallas

LeBron wasn't needed to dominate against the Sixers. He was extremely authoritative against Boston and Chicago. Versus Dallas? You know the story. We'll look more at shot distribution in a wrap-up piece within the next couple of days. Dallas took away his preferences.

Miami was favored in this series because many were expecting LeBron to be LEBRON. When he wasn't, Dallas became the better team. Most importantly, James was a key factor in the categories we discussed above.

*2 of 12 on treys in the last three games
*14 turnovers committed in the last three games
*Utter invisibility during the "last six minute" collapses

More in a few days. For now, congratulations to the Dallas Mavericks. And thanks for the kindness Mark Cuban showed in taking time to post comments before each series that helped HoopData readers understand what the Mavericks were thinking about round-by-round through their gauntlet of challenges. There were multiple stories out there about how Cuban wasn't commenting to the media. He posted comments here during that "media blackout," and it was greatly appreciated.

Thanks also to all of you have have been with us as readers throughout the season and through the playoffs. I hope the experience was as fun for you as it was for me. See you soon to wrap things up...

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Dallas 60, Miami 26

by Jeff Fogle 10. June 2011 01:09

That's the score of the 24-minute composite representing the last six minutes...of the last four games in the NBA Finals. The equivalent of "one half" of a basketball game, but spread out over THE MOST IMPORTANT MINUTES of four different encounters.

LAST SIX MINUTES
Game Two: Dallas 20, Miami 5
Game Three: Dallas 12, Miami 7
Game Four: Dallas 11, Miami 5
Game Five: Dallas 17, Miami 9

Total: Dallas 60, Miami 26

If one of these teams had won an actual half by a score like that, the world would stand in awe. The leader would be celebrated for its dominance. The loser, humiliated (at least temporarily).

Have we ever even seen anything like that in the NBA playoffs in just a normal half? There have surely been blowouts. We've even seen trailing teams take the night off to save themselves for the next game. A 60-26 half? Sixty against what's considered by most accounts to be a great defense? Twenty-six, from what's supposed to be one of the most talented threesomes of scorers every assembled?

But, this isn't just a half. This is a composite of the most important minutes. From four games played in a row. Involving the same teams. The same sets of stars and role players. The same coaches.

It boggles the mind!

Miami did win the last six minutes of the series opener 17-15 in their 92-84 victory. So, it hasn't been a sweep of the clutch minutes for Dallas. But, Miami's win was only by two points. Dallas had wins of 15, 5, 6, and 8. The 30-minute composite score for the full series is Dallas 75, Miami 43. Still mind boggling.

Here are the full-game numbers for tonight...

DALLAS 112, MIAMI 103
2-point pct: Miami 58%, Dallas 52%
Three-pointers: Miami 8/20, Dallas 13/19
Free Throws: Miami 21/26, Dallas 21/27
Rebounds: Miami 36, Dallas 26
Turnovers: Miami 16, Dallas 11
1's and 2's: Miami 79, Dallas 73

Both teams shot extremely well. We've seen each do that earlier in the playoffs. It hadn't happened yet in this series though. Even when Miami and Dallas combined for a stellar 20 of 46 on three-pointers in the series opener, we still only had 176 total points in the game because both struggled inside they arc. Tonight they were 21 of 39 on treys, and very successful on dueces too. This is the first time vs. Miami that Dallas has been able to win treys by a meaningful margin...which led to it being their first win by more than 2-3 points.

We're pretty deep in the series now. It's easy to forget how many times Miami was moments away from virtually wrapping it up.

*They were on the verge of a series rout with a huge fourth quarter lead in Game Two...

*They were on the verge of a 3-1 series lead in the fourth quarter this past Tuesday. And, if they're up 3-1 the series is over because Miami still had two home games up their sleeve if needed.

*They were on the verge of a 3-2 series lead tonight...which also would have been a near clincher with Dallas having to sweep on the road.

And, yet...ANOTHER fourth quarter debacle has them returning to South Beach in unfamiliar terrority. For the first time this year, the Miami Heat will be playing with THEIR backs to the wall!

Worse, they'll be in that position knowing they still haven't solved the riddle of Dirk Nowitzki yet. Though Dirk wasn't a dominant go-to force in the final minutes tonight the way he had been in prior games, he still had a strong plus/minus of +14 on the evening. Let's update that stat we've been monitoring for awhile now.

Plus/Minuses from the Dallas perspective:
Game One: -2 with Dirk, -6 without
Game Two: +13 with Dirk, -11 without
Game Three: +12 with Dirk, -14 without
Game Four: +7 with Dirk, -4 without
Game Five: +14 with Dirk, -5 without

Total: +44 with Dirk, -40 without

Game Four certainly might have had a bigger plus if the big German wasn't battling a sinus infection and a fever of 102. Can Miami shut down, or at least contain a healthy Nowitzki TWICE in the next two games?

It's a late night. Planning to pop back late Friday evening with additional notes...hopefully supplementing the next-day coverage you'll be reading at your favorite sports news sites Friday morning and afternoon. Will talk more about LeBron James at that time. He managed to both be more aggressive tonight (triple double and 21 shot attempts) while also disappearing again in the fourth quarter! Will take extra time to get closer to solving that riddle. As commenter huevonkiller noted Thursday afternoon, and Magic Johnson said tonight in the postgame show, fatigue looks to be a significant factor.

See you again by midnight Friday. The next game day report will be late Sunday after Game Six is played in Miami. Thanks to all of you who have been visiting regularly throughout the playoffs for your continued interested and support.

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Playoff Fever!

by Jeff Fogle 8. June 2011 01:09

Fighting a sinus infection and a reported fever of 102, Dirk Nowitzki once again led the Dallas Mavericks to a come-from-behind victory over the Miami Heat to even the NBA Championship series at two games apiece.

It wasn't quite as dramatic as rallying from 15 points down with less than seven minutes to go in Game Two (a 22-5 finish). Dallas trailed tonight 74-65 with 10:11 to go, and was staring at this scenario...

*Their star Dirk Nowitzki was as sick as a dog. He hit his first three attempts of the game at peak adrenaline...but was just 1 of 11 over his last 12 shots at this juncture. It didn't look like he was going to be able to carry the Mavs on his back this time around.

*Nobody was making any treys. The team would finish 4 of 18 from long range. You can make up for an ailing star if role players make some buckets from behind the arc. Dallas was well below its norms on this evening.

*Jason Kidd had either lost his legs or lost confidence in his shot. Kidd would only take three shots on the evening (all missed treys). He was on the floor providing leadership, and toughness on the defensive end. You didn't get the sense he was going to make a big shot because he was shying away from taking any shots.

*Dwyane Wade of Miami was having another strong shooting game. He would finish 13 of 20 from the field for 32 points. The Heat weren't particularly on fire from the field as a team...but they had a workable option who wasn't sick, and wasn't shying away from the basket. 

*Jason Terry was 3 of 9 shooting at this point in the game. Given his recent history trying to score against LeBron James, there had to be skepticism that he was about to ignite and lead a comeback.

But, just like in Game Two...Terry DID ignite with two quick baskets that cut the deficit to three points with 9:22 left. Wade made a jumper to take it back to five points at 76-69. A Wade layup with 7:24 made it 78-73. That was the high water mark for Miami from that point forward. Dirk rose to the occasion. Miami shrunk.

DALLAS 86, MIAMI 83
2-point pct: Miami 49%, Dallas 46%
3-pointers: Miami 2/14, Dallas 4/18
Free Throws: Miami 17/24, Dallas 24/30
Rebounds: Miami 43, Dallas 41
Turnovers: Miami 13, Dallas 10
1's and 2's: Miami 77, Dallas 74

Both teams showed signs of fatigue tonight from long range. This had been a series with some pretty good production on treys. Miami and Dallas combined to go 6 of 32 this evening, with a lot of bombs that weren't exactly honing in on their target from the moment of release. Miami had the superior two-point shooting percentage again (4-0 in that stat this series if you don't round off Game One). Dallas made up for that by earning more trips to the free throw line again (4-0 in makes this series, with a 88-74 edge in points, and a 110-89 edge in attempts).

A big difference for Dallas came in the turnover department. They won that category for the first time all series, reducing what had been 18 and 14 giveaways in the last two games to just 10 tonight. This obviously isn't a series with a lot of margin for error. Dallas did a good job of plugging that leak on this evening.

A game like this presents a million possible topics of discussion. I've had the post-game interviews on TV in the background as I write. I think everyone's done a good job of outlining the Dirk drama, marveling at the ACTUAL shrinkage of LeBron tonight rather than the illusory shrinkage from Game Three....and Jason Whitlock just listed the successful coaching moves from Rick Carlisle in a question because he knew Carlisle wouldn't mention those himself (changing the starting lineup, getting Dirk more rest than normal because of the illness at a time when Dallas had been struggling badly whenever he sat, going to the zone in the fourth quarter, leaving Peja on the bench for 99% of the night, etc...). What's missing I think is this:

MIAMI'S POSSESSIONS THE LAST 7 MINUTES

6:50: Bosh misses 18-footer
6:05: Bosh misses 18-footer
5:15: Bosh commits turnover
4:48: Wade commits turnover
4:18: Miller commits turnover
3:33: Miller misses 3-pointer
2:59: Wade misses 24-footer
2:25: James misses 17-footer
2:16: Miller rebounds that miss and misses a layup
1:53: Bosh MAKES two free-throws, thanks to an insane foul from Stevenson on another jumper
1:09: Haslem misses jumper

That takes us to the point on the clock where Miami does get some stuff on the board thanks to a foul on a fast break, and a dunk when Dallas was giving away the inside to make sure Miami didn't shoot a trey.

As we saw in the other collapse, Miami is settling for jumpers. The good news is that the team just didn't run clock then launch a low percentage guarded trey. The bad news if you're a Miami fan is that this team STILL doesn't know how to consistently get points on the board late in close games vs. good teams (beyond hoping that guarded treys go in). The sampling above was very heavy on jumpers and very light on forays to the basket. Yes, Dallas was playing a zone. Zones arent unbeatable!

Let's take a look at the final six minutes from each of the four games played so far. That will give us a 24-minute "half" of basketball we can use for a crunch time comparison.

FINAL 6 MINUTE "SCORES" IN EACH GAME:
Game One: Miami 17, Dallas 15
Game Two: Dallas 20, Miami 5
Game Three: Dallas 12, Miami 7
Game Four: Dallas 11, Miami 5

Total: Dallas 58, Miami 34

How's that for a "halftime score?!" Let that register for a minute. Dallas is up 24 points IN CRUNCH TIME, putting points on the board consistently against a defense that now, suddenly, isn't looking so scary. And, Miami should be pretty humiliated that they just popped 5, 7, and 5 points in the final six minutes of the last three games. It took a huge first game just to get them to 34! Dallas is up 43-17 in the final six minutes of action during the last three games.

Miami led all four games at the 42-minute mark (75-69, 88-75, 81-74, and 78-75).

Basketball Prospectus ran an interesting article yesterday about Miami showing signs of fatigue. You can make the case tonight that a lot of players were showing signs of fatigue. That fourth quarter slopfest from the Miami perspective (particularly the turnovers) looked tired (foreshadowed very nicely by that BP article). Scroll back up to that listing of late-game Miami possessions. It's just SCREAMING fatigue. Jason Kidd stopped shooting for Dallas. The Mavs got complacent on the boards for stretches and shot poorly on treys. The next game comes up quickly on Thursday, suggesting another tired fourth quarter may be imminent.

Who can handle the fatigue challenge better? Which role players will step up and be heard? Does the fact that LeBron James has been quieter than expected early on mean he'll be more fresh than everyone else the rest of the way? Or, has that quietness been a result of playing so hard on defense that he's just as worn down as everyone else?

And, let's not forget the plus/minus story with Dirk Nowitzki. The late surge tonight continued the theme.

The updated breakdown in plus-minuses so far from the Dallas perspective:
Game One: with Dirk -2, without Dirk -6
Game Two: with Dirk +13, without Dirk -11
Game Three: with Dirk +12, without Dirk -14
Game Four: with Dirk +7, without Dirk -4

Total: with Dirk +30, without Dirk -35

Will Nowitski have recovered enough to keep those positives so prominent? Back Thursday after midnight with numbers and notes...

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Un....BELIEVABLE!!!!!

by Jeff Fogle 3. June 2011 01:39

Even though the Dallas Mavericks had recently engineered a miracle comeback against Oklahoma City Thunder...lightning doesn't strike twice. Dallas trailed the Miami Heat by 15 points with just over six minutes to go in Game Two of the 2011 NBA Championships. They seemingly had few workable options. Dirk Nowitzki wasn't shooting well. The bench wasn't doing much. D-Wade was on fire. Miami felt that this was their moment. They had established superiority. On destiny's doorstep. (cue music from "Rocky").

6:18: Jason Terry makes a jumper for Dallas to cut an 88-73 deficit to 88-75. Terry had only made two baskets on the night to this point...and had been enduring a slump the past few games. Nice to see the guy with the trophy tattooed on his arm join the series. (Using ESPN's play-by-play rundown as a guide, it may have been updated by the time you read this)

5:50: Mario Chalmers misses a three-pointer. On the prior Miami possession, D-Wade had missed a three-pointer. The team was settling for bombs figuring the game was won. If one goes in, a big lead gets bigger and the crowd goes nuts. If not, big deal! They're so far ahead it's not going to matter.

5:45: Jason Terry makes an uncontested snowbird layup on a long pass from Jason Kidd (who had rebounded the Chalmers miss). This cuts the lead to 11. Erik Spoelstra calls a quick timeout. I'm thinking "smart timeout from the Miami perspective, don't let Dallas think they have a chance." Miami just had two lazy offensive possessions, and then lost track of Terry. Spoelstra was right on top of it.

5:28: LeBron James misses a driving layup. He thought he was fouled, but he always thinks he's fouled. This would be the last time in a while Miami was able to fly at the basket.

5:20: Jason Terry is fouled and makes two free throws. After being invisible for most of the night, Terry now has six points in less than a minute to cut a 15-point lead to nine.

4:54: Chris Bosh misses a 21-foot jumper. That's a 26-second possession, which isn't possible...but sometimes the play-by-play stuff is off by a tick or two. You can tell Miami's trying to treasure their possessions since Dallas is back within single digits. But, if you've been following the team all year, you're already thinking back to all of those games where they stalled down the stretch with a sluggish offense. That couldn't happen again could it? So many in the media had assured us that Miami now knew how to run an offense late in close games. I'm putting the distances on missed jumpers in italics to help emphasize how much this mattered.

4:33: Shawn Marion makes a driving layup to cut the lead to 88-81. Marion was an unsung hero tonight. He would finish with 20 points on 9 of 14 shooting. Dallas looked to be out of it...then it was mostly Terry and Dirk doing post-game interviews because of their history making finish. Marion's scoring kept it from being an insurmountable deficit.

4:09: LeBron James draws a foul and makes two free throws. The Miami lead is back to nine points. These are the only points the Heat would score in about seven minutes.

3:54: Jason Kidd makes a three-pointer...with MUCH more room to shoot than Dallas has normally been seeing in this series. Miami isn't rotating now with the same intensity they had been in the first 7.5 quarters of the series. Spoelstra calls another immediate timeout. You can't take your foot off the gas against Dallas...on either side of the ball. Miami looks to be doing that on BOTH sides of the ball.

3:27: LeBron James misses a 16-foot jumper. Obviously this is late in the shot clock (again with tick issues). Another possession that takes a long time and leads to something forced up with time running out.

3:11: Jason Terry makes a 14-foot jumper. The defense was again slow to react. Dallas can hit an open look! The slacking of the Miami defense is creating them all over the floor. It's now just a 4-point game and Spoelstra calls another timeout. You can imagine him saying, "Five minutes ago I reminded you that Dallas came from way down to beat Oklahoma City. Wake the heck up!" It's hard to express this visually with words and numbers. A lot of the shots both teams were taking involved similar distances. Dallas was taking open shots while Miami was forcing guarded shots.

2:53: Chris Bosh loses the ball out of bounds trying to drive to the basket. One of the issues Miami has late in close games is that they're just giving the ball to one of their stars and asking him to do something. Turnovers are more common with that approach against fired up defenses. A penetrating point guard wreaks havoc and forces rotations. That's why Chris Paul's teams are so successful late in close games, while the superstar "scorers" often have trouble (as Henry Abbott has been showing all season at TrueHoop).

2:44: Dirk Nowitzki makes an 18-footer. He wasn't wide open (going from memory) but it was an easier shot than it needed to be. Miami's no longer reacting with defensive aggression. More like defensive fear. It's 90-88. It's a two-point game with just under three minutes to go. Against Oklahoma City, Dallas still had a lot of work to do in the final minute, and didn't tie the game until the final seconds. They're within a bucket already and there's plenty of time left. I've probably uttered my fifth "unbelievable" by this point already.

2:20: Udonis Haslem misses a 15-footer. Again, we're deep in the shot clock. Again, it's a jumper instead of anything at the basket. This time, it's Haslem taking the shot...which is something Dallas would pray for any time down the floor. He would go 1 of 3 tonight, and is now 4 of 20 the last four games. Some of this has to be rust from his tremendously long layoff. His form looks very sluggish on any jumper away from the basket. And his shots are hitting the wrong side of the rim. Where's D-Wade? Dallas is doing a good job encouraging the ball to go elsewhere. Miami still doesn't have a way to get the ball where THEY want it to go...beyond letting LeBron or Wade gain possession out by the arc and hoping they hit a guarded trey. That was going to bite them in the butt eventually.

2:00: Dirk Nowitzki has a jumper blocked by LeBron. Jason Kidd gets the rebound but loses the ball to Haslem. Miami gets a stop! It's still 90-88...but suddenly the Dallas run is over because the Heat defense made a couple of plays.  Nice try Mavericks. Try that old OKC magic on us. Ha! You had us going there for awhile. This is Miami and we've got a championship to win.

1:31: LeBron misses a guarded three pointer. But, Miami gets the rebound.

1:05: LeBron misses another guarded three pointer. Bit and bitten. It's frustrating that there's kind of a mini-debate going between some statheads saying "We told you back when Miami was losing close games during the regular season that they'd be fine in the playoffs," and others saying "hoping guarded three-pointers go in isn't a plan." When the bombs go in, it looks like Miami knows how to win close games. When they don't, Miami looks lost. Maybe we can stop debating how flipped coins land and talk about HAVING A PLAN WHEN YOU NEED TO SCORE.

Haslem would grab the board off that second miss, but immediately turn it over to Kidd. That triggered a fast break that's finished off by Dirk from a Marion pass. WE'RE TIED WITH 57 SECONDS LEFT!

Time out Miami. This is their third time out during the comeback.

0:36: D-Wade misses a guarded three-pointer late in the shot clock. Amazing. Dallas gets the rebound and doesn't call a timeout. They can think about trying to get something quick to force a two-for-one possession sequence. But that's squeezing it pretty tight unless you get something in the first few seconds. It looks at first like they're going to work for a good shot rather than sweat the two for one. Then, inexplicably, Dirk finds himself with the ball and plenty of space outside the arc.

0:26: DIRK FOR THREE! That's what I yelled so loud that my wife fell out of her recliner.  Historical moments deserve that kind of volume or you're not a sports fan. Similar volume last week when LeBron hit the tying trey in the comeback at Chicago (though it was earlier in the evening). Seems like the prior time was when Northern Iowa hit that "go for the jugular" trey against Kansas two Marches ago. Dallas leads 93-90, finishing off a 20-2 run that will surely go down in the...

0:24: MARIO CHALMERS FOR THREE! OH MY GOD ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! This was beautiful. It's easy to blame Jason Terry for losing track of Chalmers. But, Terry and Dallas were most worried about D-Wade rotating to the top of the key...and then LeBron on the old "pass it back to the inbounds passer so he can shoot" play. Chalmers ran to the far corner in case the shot was there. LeBron saw him and threw a perfect strike. Chalmers had been 0 of 5 for the night. He finished 1 of 6 with a clutch trey that temporarily saved the day. The camera angle made it seem like you could see the X's and O's diagrammed in human form. Art.

Dallas calls a timeout and sets up their play. They want the last shot. They know Miami has a foul to give. They're going to hold the ball to drain at least half of the clock off...then see if they can make something happen. Dirk gets the ball with about 8 seconds left (going from memory). He's on the left side of the floor...meaning any drive to the basket would involve his injured hand. He can try to shoot a jumper in traffic right-handed. He can attack and try to draw a foul. Can he score with a torn finger tendon on his left hand?

0:03: Dirk scores a left-handed layup!

Miami didn't give their foul. Once Dirk has the ball you don't want to risk fouling on a quick shooting motion that puts him on the line. Bosh wasn't up to the defensive challenge. With no timeouts left, Miami is forced to launch a desperation three that doesn't go in...

DALLAS 95, MIAMI 93
2-point pct: Dallas 52%, Miami 58%
Three-pointers: Dallas 6/17, Miami 9/30
Free Throws: Dallas 17/21, Miami 16/24
Rebounds: Dallas 41, Miami 30
Turnovers: Dallas 18, Miami 12
1's and 2's: Dallas 77, Miami 66

During the part of the game that Miami was dominating, it seemed like the key stats were going to be treys and turnovers. The Heat had once again neutralized the Dallas danger from long range. The Mavericks were sloppy with the basketball much of the night. Even though they fixed the offensive rebounding issue from the other evening (Miami only had six tonight after grabbing 16 in the series opener), Dallas was clearly the inferior side through the first 42 minutes.

With the Dallas comeback, the important stat looks to be rebounding. And, those 30 attempts from behind the arc for Miami are way too many. You want to neutralize Dallas, but you don't want to euthanize your own offense down the stretch.

We've seen a few big comebacks in Dallas playoff games this year. The Mavs survived one against Portland...regathered themselves...and dominated ther rest of the series. The Mavs inflicted one on Oklahoma City...and the Thunder are still shellshocked from the experience as we speak. How will Miami handle it?

It still seems that, when both teams are going pedal to the metal, Miami is the better side. If either slacks off on defense, then the other can put points on the board quickly. Will Miami be committed to 48 minutes of defense every game from this point forward? Will they get discouraged and lose defensive intensity if things start to go the other way (we saw that during the regular season slump, but not really at all in the playoffs...nothing's happened until tonight that could discourage them). Maybe Miami's still on destiny's doorstep. Dallas has made it clear they're not going to hold the door open for them.

Answers will become clear in Sunday's Game Three. Back with numbers and notes Sunday before midnight...

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