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Hoop it up all week with SI.com's writers in the NBA Playoffs Blog, a daily journal of NBA commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
1:40 AM ET, 6/9/06

Despite loss, Heat hang tough

Posted by Kelly Dwyer
Following Dallas' Game 1 win, you'll probably hear quite a bit about how the Heat frittered away their best chance for a win in Texas on Thursday night. You'll hear about how Pat Riley's squad should have taken advantage of a game that saw Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard combine to miss 21 of 28 shots. You'll read how they should have done more with those 12 second-half turnovers that the Mavericks coughed up. You'll wonder if things will ever get this close again in Dallas, especially once Nowitzki starts nailing his shots.

I can't get behind that, because I see Game 1 as a starting point for the type of play we'll see in this series, rather than a Dallas clang-fest that will remedy itself by Sunday's Game 2. For starters, Dirk missed those shots because he was played expertly all night by both Udonis Haslem, and Pat Riley's rotations were superb. Riles threw several different weakside looks at the Dallas superstar, limiting Dirk's options once he spun away from Haslem's sticky perimeter defense and into what seemed like open space. Nowitzki missed a couple of easy looks, but by and large he played as well as you'd expect for a guy who was facing the best bit of defense he's seen in a while.

Previous opponents like Shane Battier and Bruce Bowen may be excellent on-ball defenders, but the help defense from teams like Memphis and San Antonio was lacking. Same goes for Shawn Marion and the Suns, though Shawn is a step down from Shane and Bruce on the ball. Dirk will get better as the series goes on, he'll relax and start to see the floor better, but he wasn't missing those shots because of a case of nerves, or an off shooting night. He was played darn well and was forced into tough shots.

Howard's a bit of a different story. He had space to work with, and missed a lot of shots that he usually nails, but he also contributed 12 rebounds in 43 minutes. His defense will also improve. That said, Riley had five days off to prepare for these Mavericks (we're assuming he knew Dallas would prevail even before they won Game 6 of the Conference Finals), and you know he practically lived in the Heat video room. His ability to find holes in the Dallas offense kept the Heat in Thurday's game, and with two full days in between Games 1 and 2, he'll have a few more surprises up his sleeve for Sunday. The Heat aren't the typical defensive team that Riley likes to coach, but win or lose, they're going to force the Mavs into a tough night.

Riley and his team did a fine job at keeping the Mavs off the offensive boards. Dallas is one of the league's better offensive rebounding teams, and yet they only pulled in seven Thursday, even though they missed 40 shots and six free throws. They made Dirk work, and though he was able to dish out four assists, the obvious passing partners were hard to find for the 7-footer tonight. And though Dallas got to the line more than the Heat, Nowitzki only made it there six times, after averaging 10 attempts through the first 17 postseason contests.

I'm not saying Miami shouldn't be disappointed in what could have been a Game 1 win. I can say that the Heat have proved to be a worthy adversary for the Mavs, and that their strong defensive play should continue -- assuming the effort is there. Riley will make the calls, and if his players execute, we'll continue to see a competitive series.

What I can't wait to see, in Game 2, is Avery Johnson's adjustment. I'm completely confident he'll come up with a way to make life a little easier for Nowitzki, though it won't approach the open spaces he saw against Phoenix. Johnson knows what he's doing, and it'll be a gas (a gas, I say!) watching these two coaches go back and forth.

What fans need to understand is that the Mavericks can win like this, every night, no matter the situation. This is a darn good defensive team, and though they can put big offensive numbers on the board, they like to slow things down (they averaged about 88 possessions per game during the regular season, among the lowest in the league). This wasn't some sloppy game that the Mavs were lucky to pull out. The turnovers (Miami and Dallas combined for 29) will come down a bit and the nerves will steady, but this could easily be a series where 90 points wins the game -- as long as these two great coaches continue to put their stamp on the action.

Trading Fours

-- It was a sad state of affairs with Shaquille O'Neal at the line tonight. He missed eight of nine, but really shot 1 of 11, as two lane violations were called. A third should have been called early in the third quarter, but the Heat gathered an offensive foul, and kicked it out to Antoine Walker for a 3-pointer.

-- It's been mentioned by other writers, but bears repeating -- Walker hurries way too many inside shots because he seems deathly afraid of getting fouled. Walker is shooting 58 percent from the line during the postseason, and too often he chucks up a baby hook a half-second before he rises to the top of his arc on his jump. He'll also shoot the ball across his body, rather than going straight up with his arm. Antoine played 42 minutes Thursday, making 7 of 19 shots, and didn't get to the line once. This has to improve, because even if he misses the free throws, a batch of fouls will help guys like Dwyane Wade get to the line once the opponents are in the penalty. As it was, Wade (6 of 10) was the only one in red besides Shaq to get to the line in Game 1.

-- When I was a freshman in college, I roomed with a lovely gent who had a series of movie posters tacked to his side of the dorm room. One of the movies was The Associate, which featured a large shot of Whoopi Goldberg relaxing behind a desk. Tres creepy. Ask Andrew Lawrence, whose dorm room I ended up fleeing to for sophomore year. The other, less-creepy, movie was a horrid Marlon Wayans vehicle called The Sixth Man, a laugh riot that saw Kadeem Hardison's ghostly visage sabotaging the games of several of Wayans' NCAA basketball opponents. Kadeem Hardison's ghost, blocking shots. It was hilarious. Anyway, Jason Terry's fourth quarter whiff of a layup reminded me of The Sixth Man, which makes no sense because Hardison is a Clipper fan in real life. You know what? I really shouldn't have brought the whole thing up.

-- We've been waiting for this sort of game from Terry after watching him tear up the 2005 conference semifinals, and it was nice to see him go off while his teammates struggled to put points together. 32 points (including 12 in the fourth quarter) on just 18 shots for the Dallas guard.


Posted: 2:24 AM   by Anonymous
The Mavs won a game they should have never won. What were their goals. 1) Ride Dirk and Josh on the offensive end. 2) Keep Wade out of the lane. 3) Get Shaq in foul trouble. 4) Keep Diop and Dampier out of foul trouble... Which of these happened? NONE! But they still won. Good luck Miami. What if the Mavs played well tonight?
Posted: 6:37 AM   by TB (Hungary)
I totally agree... In the 1st quarter the Heat were playing at their best (I can't imagine they will ever shoot the ball so well in the upcoming games), the Mavs struggling, and there weren't more than 5-6 points between the two teams. I kept asking myself, what happens,if Dallas start to play at their usual level...
Posted: 6:42 AM   by Anonymous
It's too early to comment on things. Both teams are newbies in the NBA Finals. Miami and Dallas will work hard to make the needed changes to cope up with the challenge. This will be an exciting battle to watch. Good luck to both teams.

Miami Heat in 7.
Posted: 7:27 AM   by Anonymous
Sorry Kelly Dwyer, you're off on this one. Dallas didn't look good at all, with the exception of Terry, and yet they won by 10. Once they get more relaxed and in rythym, the Heat are in for a long (well, short) series. The Mavs won't play that poorly again. Mavs in 5.
Posted: 7:36 AM   by Anonymous
All of a sudden we are all expert on this series. The Mavs fans starting to celebrate. Folks this is just one game. Remember what happened to Miami-Nets series? Team that wins game one wins 73% of the time? Remember when Shaq and the lakers lost in game 1 to AI and the sixers? I am not a Miami fan, but I don't know how but I think Miami still can win it in six.
Posted: 8:04 AM   by Mattus
Props to Dallas - they need 3 wins from the remaining 6 games to be the 2006 NBA Champs.

You talk about Riley having 5 days to prepare his team to counter Dallas' offense, but what about how devastated the Mavs would have been feeling at quarter time when all Avery Johnson's cunningly devised defensive schemes simply weren't working? Wade was driving at will, Shaq was passing calmly out of double-teams, and the Heat were making baskets. Many lesser teams would have mentally caved at this point, knowing they'd given it their best shot, yet were getting overwhelmed by 2 great players.

Yet not Dallas - by halftime, they had not only battled back into the game, they were in front. Their largest lead of the game was 10 points, which was the final margin.
Posted: 10:02 AM   by Anonymous
Mavs have to much motor for the Heat. Dirk wasn't on his game last night as you will see. While they did a good job on Dirk, that will not always be the case. Dirk is one of the few unstoppable players in the league. He will do it again. Plus, the Heat are old and will have a hard time keeping up with the Mavs. Sooner (and later) they will wear down and then their defense will really begin to fade. I predicted Mavs in 5 but expected the first loss to be last night. Hmm, I will stick with my prediction, but can only wonder if they can pull off a sweep.
Posted: 10:03 AM   by Anonymous

I like the MAVS! but I think HEAT will WIN!

Posted: 10:23 AM   by Nader
very good points by the first comment. It amazes me to see how Dallas played easily one of their worst playoff games (only 90 points for a Dallas team), came out with none of their pregame strategies intact, go down by 11 in the first quarter, and still manage a win by 10 points! So what was the tangent that helped them, besides Jason Terry?

Most certainly the coaching end. Pat Riley's been in this stage before, yet he tries to revamp a 4th quarter comeback by running a 3 point attempt to... Jason Williams? We saw Avery Johnson easily outcoach Riley in this eyesore of a first game. What IF the Mavs had played well? We would have seen another 20+ lopsided victory just like the season. This Heat team certainly isn't the one the Mavs have played in the season, but the Mavs team the Heat played in the season isn't the same either. Mavs in 5, done and done.
Posted: 10:31 AM   by Anonymous
I hate to say it but this could be a short series. Miami did everything they needed to but I never felt that they actually had control of the game. Even when they were up 11 you could see Dallas starting to work back into the game. Miami hurt themselves tonight, only 6 fouls between Diop, Dampier, and Van Horn? They should have averaged that not totaled it, you could also see why Dallas is so much better off without Antoine Walker in the line-up, horrible game other than a last second 30-ft. heave.
Posted: 10:55 AM   by Anonymous
Dallas' offense, barring JT, was almost non-existent in game 1. But what separates this team from the Heat is their depth and defense. If Shaq and Wade don't score big numbers (like Dirk and J-Ho in Game 1) could the Heat seriously win a game? If the Heat aren't getting anything offensively, can they step up on defense like the Mavs who held Miami to 13 and 12 2nd and 4th quarter points, respectively? A resounding NO answers both questions.
Posted: 11:06 AM   by big boy
it's all over, baby - next game will be a blowout, this is 04 all over again, 4-1 or even 4-0 Mavs.....
Posted: 11:19 AM   by nirav aka hollA
the Mavs definately stole this game. The heat should be worried because they didnt even though dirk nad josh had bad shooting nights. I think the heat did an excellent job in the first quarter. I think the heat made a bad subsititution taking out wade adn shaq at the end of the first half. The mavs went on a 10-2 run which really seemed like the turning point
Posted: 11:19 AM   by Anonymous
All the Miami Fan around everywhere are just starstruck....sorry to say that, caus the mavs are just too good for them. this series will not go more them 6 games....miami SHAQ is done for title...Riely & Shaq both lied to all of yall...about winning a title...
Posted: 1:00 PM   by Anonymous
I am already tired of the East Coast biased media claiming that the Heat lost this game because they shot so poorly from the line. Ok, let's examine this.

Last night they were 7-19 for 36.8%. In the postseason they are shooting 66.5%, so if they just shoot their average, they only make 13 free throws. They made 7, so if they hit on 13, then you can add 6 more points to the final score. 90-86. Done. Mavs win.

So, instead of everyone out there (East coast media) talking about how the Heat lost this game, let's take a look at the Mavs defense. They were phenomenal. People were saying how the Heat didn't play their best, and still nearly won. Well, people, watch out-- that was one of, if not THE WORST game of the Mavericks in the postseason. There's no way that Dirk and Josh play that poorly the rest of the series.

I was cautiously optimistic that the Mavs would win in 6 or 7. After seeing last night, I could easily see them closing it out in Miami- maybe even a sweep.

In any case, the Mavs WERE the superior team, they ARE the superior team, and they will prove that over the next few games.

So, I'll get off my soapbox now, but I just wish people could see that the Heat got beaten by the Mavs-- they didn't lose because of missed free throws.

Kip in Texas
Posted: 3:58 PM   by Lyndon

You can't honestly believe Nowitzki is going to be shut down all series long regardless of the double, triple, quadruple teams Riley throws at him. I agree the Heat did a great job defensively, but so did Dallas. That's what changed the complexion of the game. Dallas went into a zone & Miami couldn't quite recover.

Defense has stood the test of time as the determining factor teams win championships on, and will determine this series as well. The Heat did miss a great opportunity to take a game in Dallas. You talk about Riley and his team doing a great job at keeping the Mavs off the offensive glass but that's the only stat in which Miami had an edge, and a slight one at that. I think both teams will remain pretty equal throughout the entire series. It will truly be a coach's duel. Let the chess match begin!

I actually believe Shaq Vader used the darkside to block Jason Terry's layup/dunk attempt in the fourth quarter. Dirk Skywalker brought balance back into the Universe by using the force on the entire Miami Heat team who shot a miserable 36.8% from the stripe.
Posted: 5:44 PM   by Morgan
Yeah, the Heat did look good when they were shooting the lights out in the first quarter. Then reality set in. The reality is that the Heat are terrible free throw shooters, which is a huge liability in close games, and most playoff games are close. The reality is that Heat are old and not conditioned well enough to keep up with Dallas, especially in a 7 game series (Dallas was even able to wear down Phoenix). The reality is that Dallas has guys on their bench that are better than three of the Heat starters.

Maybe if Shaq keeps throwing elbows he can hurt somebody so the series stays close.
Posted: 10:29 PM   by Anonymous
Dallas defense in the 2nd and 4th quarters was absolutely nasty! A team with Shaq, Wade, Walker and J-Will only scoring 12 and 13 in those quarters? That's absurd... To all the Dallas haters and those who claim that Dallas has no D, maybe this will open your closed, little minds.
Posted: 10:34 PM   by Anonymous
Avery will solve Dirk's offensive woes in game 1. Props to Udonis though, he stuck to Dirk like glue. My problem with AJ in game 1 though is, if Haslem constantly denied Dirk the ball on the elbows (which is Dirk's sweet spots), why didn't the Mavs just give Dirk the ball at the top of the key and run a pick and roll with one of the guards? This way, smaller players would have ended up rotating on Dirk. If they don't rotate, Dirk ends up with a clear path to the basket. C'mon AJ. That's fundamental coaching stuff. If the mismatch doesn't come to you, you go get it. Still, I love AJ and the Mavs. They are just way too good of an offensive team to shoot so poorly again like in game 1.
Posted: 3:12 PM   by Anonymous
The rest of the series will come down to wire because of Wade but I don't see Miami winning more than two games. Dallas just has too much versatility, speed, and depth for Miami. You can't expect guys like Shaq, Haslem, Zo, Payton to keep up throughout a seven game series. Mav's in six...
Posted: 12:20 PM   by Dirk Nowvitzki
The heat are done, no one comes back from done 2-0, and with a struggiling Shaq the heat can't do it. Dirk was off, but that happens every 50 games, so he will bounce back nicely. MAvs in 5.