Before the start of the 2006 NBA Finals, I took a look at seven questions surrounding the series. As it turns out, the effort was wasted. Only one of the seven questions turned it to be particularly relevant, and the series turned on its answer: "If this series comes down to a couple of possessions, who wins?"
With the benefit of hindsight, we now know the answer was Miami. And Miami. And Miami again. It was the Heat's three wins in games decided by three points or less in Games 3, 5 and 6 that were the difference in a series that proved just as dramatic as the playoffs leading up to it.
Coincidentally, the Mavericks won Games 1 and 2 by a combined 24 points, just as many as they were outscored by in Game 4. That means the entire point margin in the series -- Miami +6 -- came in the three tight games. While hardly unprecedented -- as recently as last year, San Antonio was outscored by 12 points in winning the title -- that is a relatively low margin, the eighth-smallest dating back to the 1979 NBA Finals.
To try to learn more about the Heat's trio of close wins, I fired up Synergy Sports and looked at the decisive minute of each game (as well as the decidedly indecisive fourth quarter of Game 5).
In Game 3, we pick up the action with 1:03 left after Udonis Haslem makes two free throws to put the Heat up 94-93:
Jason Terry dribbles the ball up the court and the Mavericks go to their bread-and-butter play: High screen-and-roll with Dirk Nowitzki screening. Nowitzki's unorthodox pick hangs up both his defender (Haslem) and the man on the ball (Gary Payton), but Dwyane Wade flies over to contest Terry's 17-footer, which is off. My thought watching the play live was that Wade's man (Josh Howard) was wide open beyond the 3-point line, and replay confirms it; Howard would have had a great look.
Terry compounds his error by reaching in on the rebounder, James Posey, but the resulting foul call was rather dubious. If Dallas fans want something to complain about, this wouldn't be bad. It's also on this play where the clock run-off that became something of a big deal occurred, prior to Posey splitting two free throws. 95-93, Miami.
Dallas comes back with a great play call, a quick-hitting screen-and-roll with Howard screening for Devin Harris. The Heat correctly switches, but Wade is caught flat-footed. With the only Miami big man on the floor (Haslem) chasing Nowitzki around the 3-point line, there's no help in the paint as Harris ties the game at 95 with an easy layup.