Terry, cold shooting will force Heat to adjust in Finals
Posted: Friday June 9, 2006 11:33AM; Updated: Friday June 9, 2006 2:38PM
Antoine Walker's dismal 7-of-19 shooting in Game 1 of the Finals took valuable shots away from a more reliable Shaquille O'Neal.
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After we got past the awkward sight of Stuart Scott interviewing a huffing, puffing Mark Cuban on the StairMaster -- whilst Cuban flexed his triceps and discussed his favorite Wiggles songs (really, he did) -- before the game, it was an entertaining Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Dwyane Wade appeared to be channeling LeBron James circa three weeks ago, putting his head down and bolting by whoever tried to guard him. More surprising was Jason Terry doing the same thing. Especially in these playoffs, Terry seems to be trying to elevate and dunk when he gets a lane in the half-court, something you rarely see from a point guard. (The next time Tony Parker, Steve Nash or Jason Williams tries it will be the first.) Of course, open-court layups were a different matter.
In his postgame comments, Pat Riley focused on the concept of "timely shots," the idea being that Dallas hit them and Miami did not. He also rightly mentioned the Heat's embarrassing free throw shooting -- the team shot 7 for 19. That rate is important for two reasons. First, and quite obviously, it's hard to win many games shooting 37 percent from the line. Second, look closer and you'll see that all 19 of those free throws were taken by either Shaquille O'Neal (1-9) or Wade (6-10). None of the other Miami starters or reserves shot a single free throw.
If Miami had been knocking down open jump shots, this might be forgivable -- it could be construed as the Heat taking advantage of the double teams on O'Neal and Wade to spread the defense. But the Heat shot 5 for 20 on three-pointers -- and some of those, especially the Jason Williams corner heave near the end of the fourth quarter, were very poor shots.
In other words, what the free throw percentage really illustrates is that Miami settled for jumpers rather than forcing interior defenders to recover. The way Cleveland extended the Pistons, a team the Mavs resemble in their cohesive team defense, was to attack the basket after the second swing of the ball off a double of James. The Pistons couldn't recover in time from the second rotation and, at least for a few games, Flip Murray made a killing driving the lane. Miami would be wise to do the same thing. This means that Antoine Walker, James Posey and Gary Payton have to catch and go right away sometimes, rather than shooting the three. Even the threat of the drive would force Dallas to react to it.
Still, Game 1 was encouraging for the Heat.
Consider: The team went into Dallas, jumped out to a big lead, limited Dirk Nowitzki to 16 points and both Wade and O'Neal were able to get to the basket for high percentage shots. The Shaq matchup was especially one-sided. Game commentators Hubie Brown and Mike Breen made a point to laud Erick Dampier for his defense on Shaq, but the big guy still shot 8 of 11 from the field, and when he did pass out to the three-point shooters, more often than not they were open.
The problem: Remove the shooting of Wade, O'Neal and Williams, and the rest of the Heat were 10 for 31 from the field. Walker was the biggest culprit, at 7 of 19. If you're a Heat fan, ask yourself this: Do you want Walker shooting almost twice as many times as O'Neal?
Miami could also take something from the defensive end. Riley's zone defense was effective (at least in spurts). This takes some pressure off Williams, who is clearly overmatched on Terry (who shot 13 of 17 from the field, not counting that missed layup). With Terry being the type of streaky scorer who could get hot for three or four games in a row, Riley will be forced to counter. If Avery Johnson starts Adrian Griffin again, why not move Wade onto Terry to start the game? If Griffin posts up Williams and scores, well, the Heat can probably live with that.
With two days until the next game, there's plenty of time to dissect the potential adjustments. Part of the fun will be watching Riley in action. A master of the media, he loves to use reporters as a vehicle to spread misinformation, communicate with his players and raise or lower expectations. In fact, these may be the best sound-bite Finals in years. In addition to Riley, we get the wit and wisdom of Shaquille "I'm no salad eater" O'Neal, the bluster of Cuban and the preaching and teaching of Johnson. Here's hoping last night was a sign that this one will go six or seven. It would be a fitting finale to what's been a surprisingly entertaining postseason.