2011 NBA Finals, Mavs v. Heat – How Did We Get Here?

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2011 NBA Finals are set: Miami Heat v. Dallas Mavericks.  If you’re thinking I’m getting ahead of myself, allow me to point you to a

Come on, the Finals are set.

historical fact – only 8 teams have rallied from down 3-1, and they’ve boasted names like Bird, West, Baylor, Russell, and Hondo.[1]  You’re going to tell me that the 2006 Suns did it with an “MVP Like Steve Nash,”[2] just like Derrick Rose, and that the Bulls will still be able to pull it off.

No.  Emphatically.  This article is a retrospective; it will explain how and why both Conference Final series ended up this way. I’ll also offer a short preview of the NBA Finals.  Finally I may – briefly – attempt the impossible: psychoanalysis of Mark Cuban.

Dallas v. Oklahoma City Series

Reason 1: Dirk Nowitzki

The guy is playing off the charts.  I wrote about this at length in my last entry, and I won’t repeat myself.  Dirk’s play has helped in three important ways.  First, his offense has been unstoppable in its efficiency (no need to be redundant).  Second, as Kenny pointed out, Dirk is no longer allowing guards/forwards – Westbrook, Sefolosha, etc. – to guard him.  It used to be that some of the defenders who were smaller than him – Barnes, B. Davis, etc. – would give him trouble, but now Dirk plays right through them to draw a foul or get to the basket.  It’s improved his game immensely.  Third, Dirk puts the Thunder in a Catch-41: either they double him and suffer the Lakers’ fate in game 4 of that series as Terry and Barea and Kidd and everyone rained a shit-storm of 3-pters, or the Thunder play him straight up and watch him go for 48 or 40 on a given night.  In the words of SemihErden: “Dirk. Dirk. Dirk, bro.”

Reason 2: Jason Kidd

This guy does not get enough credit at 38 years young.  Consider that in Game 4 against OKC Kidd and Marion combined for almost 10 steals, Kidd shot 3-6 from beyond the arc, and shared defensive duties on Kevin Durant (who shot a mere 2-7 from 3-pt).[3] Now consider these numbers: 7:3, 8:2, 11:3.  Those are Kidd’s assist-to-turnover ratios[4] for a few games this series.  It’s quite a telling statistic, because it points to Kidd’s decision-making ability, and it highlights his ability to get Terry, Peja, and Barea going from distance.

Reason 3: Matchups And Misfits

I think that – in retrospect – Dallas is a very difficult matchup for the Thunder.  Perkins is largely a misfit because Tyson Chandler is too athletic and quick for Perkins, who relied on his running mate Garnett to deal with centers/PF of Chandler’s build in Boston.  Sefolosha is also a misfit because it’s not as though the Mavericks have a potent

This even sort of looks like Perk.

wing player in the vein of Carmelo or Jason Richardson where Thabo can help them defensively.  I-block-a is great, but he will always have difficulty against a 7-footer in Nowitzki, and although Collison can help, I think he’s overmatched in terms of talent.

Reason 4: Unforgivably Bad 3-point Shooting

The Thunder are shooting 19-61 from beyond the arc this series.  That’s just a shade better than 30%, but to make matters worse, they’ve made 3 of their last 30 attempts;[5] although this statistic has been beat to death, I think the reason why it’s important is because they cannot spread the floor, and with Chandler and Dallas’ well-rebounding guards, it makes OKC’s offensive life very difficult.  The real no-shows here are Cook and Durant – Cook whose 3-pt. shooting are bread-and-butter, and Durant who uses it as part of his arsenal quite often.

Overall Thoughts

I think the Mavericks, at this point, are just the better team than the Thunder.  They also appear mentally tougher than the Thunder, as evidenced by the look on Durant and Ibaka’s faces when entering the overtime period in game 4.  As a young team, backbreaking shots and heartbreaking defeats are tough to take – no doubt as the Thunder mature they’ll better handle adversity.

Mark Cuban once said that for a lot of teams, “the No. 1 job for a GM at a lot of places is not to win a championship, but to keep their jobs. . . . [T]hat’s not Donnie.”  I think some credit should be given to Mark Cuban who has done a few things. First, he’s shut the hell

Right.

up; now that the team is rolling, he doesn’t want to get in the way by opening his fat mouth and giving Durant and Westbrook any sort of bulletin board material.  Wise choice.  Second, he stuck by Nowitzki and Terry and added a real toughness in Chandler and Stevenson to give the team some defensive swagger.  Great moves.  Third, he let Donnie Nelson execute these moves, and, as evidenced above, has committed to Donnie as a GM.

Chicago v. Miami Series

Reason 1: The Bulls Don’t Have Offensive Options

They don’t.  This argument has been beaten worse than a dead horse, but it’s flatlytrue – even on nights that Boozer goes for 25 and 17, they just seem to fall short offensively.  Consistently.  Luol Deng has played fantastic at spurts and at other times has

Oh, you mean everyone minus Rose on offense?

been a relative no-show.[6]  The point is that neither Deng, nor Boozer, nor Noah has been consistent offensively.  Against this Heat team, where Bosh can go for 30 as in Game 1, Miller can go for 11 as in Game 4, and LeBron can go for 34 as in Game 4, Derrick Rose cannot be the only scoring option.  The difference in consistency is that two out of the big three for the Heat are going to have a big game, and, it seems to be the case that at least one of the other big three or a few bench guys are going to step into double-digit scoring. (Haslem for 18 in Game 2, Bosh for 34 in game 3, Miller for 12 in game 4).  This aforementioned consistency is just absent for the Bulls.

Here’s the other thing: where are Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson?  They scored 3 and 2 points respectively for the first 3 games of the series, and 5 and 6 points respectively last night.  Korver allow(ed) the Bulls to spread the floor, and Watson brought pace off the bench that kept defenders on their heels.  Neither of that is present, and their absence is making life exceedingly difficult for Derrick Rose. I was originally going to make this a separate reason why the Bulls are losing the series, but it fits in well here.

Reason 2: Rebounding

The awakening of Bosh and Haslem has taken away the Bulls’ largest edge: the offensive glass and rebounding.  Bear in mind that in Game 1, Chicago outrebounded Miami 45-33, but 19-6 on the offensive glass.  This is directly related to Noah’s ability to run roughshod over Joel Anthony and Chris Bosh – neither of whom are physically equipped to bang it out against Noah. That offensive rebounding disparity was cut to +7 Chicago in Game 2, and only +2 Chicago in Game 4, where the Heat actually outrebounded their opponent.  Haslem’s return and Bosh’s aggressiveness are directly attributable to this change, and it allows Wade and LeBron second chance points that really do hurt the Bulls.

Reason 3: Miami’s Offense

I used to say that Miami is just a bunch of athletes running down the court, beating teams in the fast-break and transition.  Get this: 10-9, 13-13, 10-16, 15-26.  Those are Miami-Chicago fast-break numbers; the Heat is losing this category by 11 points over the series.  They’re up 3 games to 1.  What?

I can’t explain it either.  I noticed these stats this evening, and while I’m not convinced that Miami plays a “real” half-court offense, I think there are some things at work.  First, I think Rose sometimes gets out of control on the fast break, and sometimes that leads to turnovers, but I can’t show this.  Also, I think more typically Rose just ends up with a layup or an and-1 opportunity.  Second, I think Miami’s improved offensive rebounding obviates the need for fast-break points in the first place.  That’s all I’ve got.

I do know that Miami’s offense is humming and approximates what Chris Broussard called “whack-a-mole:” if you think you’ve got Wade and LeBron in check, Bosh scores 34.  If you don’t like that, and think you’ve got LeBron happy to be a facilitator in one game, he’ll put in 32 the next.  The Bulls are in trouble.

Overall Thoughts

The Bulls should have signed my boy, Andre Iguodala before the deadline.  Now they can’t, and should do it in the offseason.  I always thought Deng was great, but if they use him like Lamar Odom and bring him off the bench, the Bulls would boast a scary lineup.

NBA Finals Preview

Trust me, us at 25TwoFour will do a full and complete breakdown of the series.  For now, I just want to bring up some interesting storylines.  First, who is going to guard Dirk Nowitzki?  The most reasonable answer is Chris Bosh, but please.  Second, who is going to guard Wade?  The most reasonable answer is, wait.  Actually I don’t have the first damn clue what the Mavs are going to do about Wade.  Suffice it to say that they’ve seen this movie before.  Third, what Heat bench will show up?  We can count on the Dallas bench every series, and rest assured that they will muster 25-40 points a game between Barea, Terry, and Haywood/Stevenson.  Is Udonis Haslem going to go for 10 and 9 every night, and will Miller drop in a few threes?  I don’t believe it as yet.  Finally, will Caron Butler play?  That could certainly change the series.

Conclusion

As the NBA season draws to a close and the MLB – and my Giants – begin to heat up, I have to say this is one of the most entertaining playoffs I’ve seen.  Nielson ratings evidently rank it amongst the most-watched playoffs ever, despite the absence of marquee teams (Los Angeles, Boston, New York).

Move over old guard, there’s a few new sheriffs in town.

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