Posted: Wednesday June 21, 2006 12:17PM; Updated: Wednesday June 21, 2006 12:17PM
3. Go ahead, hack the Shaq
In the Finals, the Miami Heat scored 557 points in 563 possessions, pretty inefficient, but enough to win the ring. Their efficiency would have been much higher had the Heat made their free throws, as they made just 60 percent from the line in the Finals. O'Neal shot 29 percent from the free-throw line in the series, missing 34-of-48, not including a significant amount of misses that were waved off due to lane violations. Though Johnson employed the Hack-a-Shaq strategy at times, he didn't send O'Neal to the line enough. Remember, this is a team averaging about a point per possession, so odds are O'Neal will struggle to match the average -- and with your season on the line, should desperate times call for desperate measures?
4. Bad picks, no rolls
The potent pick-and-roll showcased by Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki first came to light during last season's playoff run, which saw the Mavs lose in six games during the Conference Semifinals. This season, it became the team's focal point -- before, like most successful things for Dallas, dying altogether during the team's four-game losing streak in the Finals. Though Miami's zone defense took Dallas away from its two-man game, it was no excuse for the fact that Terry and Nowitzkicouldn't settle themselves enough to run the most basic -- and most effective -- of basketball plays.
With Nowitzki struggling for most of the Finals, Terry kept his wits about him offensively, averaging 22 points per game and keeping an aggressive tone. Still, in Game 6, his shot fell flat. He missed 18 of 25 looks, made just 2-of-11 from behind the arc, and seemed incapable of getting into the lane for the floater that worked so well for him in the regular season and Western playoffs. Nowitzki got his licks in after setting the picks, but as mentioned above, he missed too many 3-pointers -- many on wide-open looks.
For years, Finals inexperience did teams in, but all of that seemed to change in 1991. That year, Michael Jordan's Bulls took down a veteran Laker squad run by Magic Johnson, and since then each of this league's champions (the Bulls, Rockets, Spurs, Lakers and Pistons) have won the trophy in their first trip to the Finals as a collective unit. That is to say, 2000's version of the Lakers didn't have to pay their dues with a loss before returning to win the next year, 2004's Pistons didn't lose in its first time back in the Finals since 1990, and on and on.
The 2006 Finals seemed like a regression to the orthodoxy, the Mavericks frittered away a loss in Game 3 and near-certain 3-0 lead, and fell apart after that. Meanwhile, the Heat -- full of ring-bearers such as Pat Riley and O'Neal alongside vets such as Gary Payton who had already fallen short in the Finals -- stuck together long enough to win the thing.
These Mavericks didn't know how to close it out. They lost six of seven playoff games decided by three points or less, their free-throw touch left them late in Games 3 and 5, and Johnson was unable to counter Riley's schemes when it counted. You can blame distractions -- Stackhouse's suspension, Mark Cuban's gripes, three games in Miami, Keith Van Horn's beard -- all you want; the real reason these Mavericks lost the title is because they weren't ready to win the darn thing. For a while, the Dallas Mavericks were the best team in the NBA, but they weren't a champion.