Miami Heat’s defense causes confusion
The Mavericks had a hard time generating shots — especially late in the game — after 6-8 LeBron James was assigned to cover 6-2 Jason Terry.
Dallas Mavericks forward Shawn Marion looked down at a stat sheet through his stylish postgame glasses after Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday and shook his head. He raised his eyes to a room filled with reporters, cameras and questions.
“I’ll tell you this,” Marion said. “We didn’t win too many games getting 67 shots.”
Only one time this postseason has Dallas won a game when held to the number of attempted shots it managed Tuesday. It happened in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals when, led by Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas made nine more three-pointers than the Lakers.
The three-point shot could not save the Mavericks on Tuesday. The Heat’s swarming defense in the game’s second half made sure of that, limiting Dallas to 3-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc in the final 24 minutes. More specifically, LeBron James would not allow it.
The Heat made a surprising tactical adjustment near the end of Game 1 when coach Erik Spoelstra matched James against Mavericks sharpshooter Jason Terry. Dallas wasn’t prepared. Terry was limited to three shots and missed them all. Along with the Heat’s 16-6 advantage in offensive rebounds, it was the difference in the game.
How many times had James guarded Terry before Tuesday? Never.
“It was a big adjustment, something we weren’t prepared for,” Terry said.
Gaining defensive confidence like a whirling tempest throughout this postseason, the Heat has now won five games in a row and all nine at AmericanAirlines Arena. Game 2 of the NBA Finals, possibly the Heat’s last home game of the postseason, is at 9 p.m. on Thursday.
Tuesday’s 92-84 series-opening victory was the Heat’s sixth this postseason when trailing at halftime. Clutch shooting by James and Dwyane Wade has carried the Heat throughout the postseason, but they point to defense as the catalyst in close fourth quarters. During its five-game winning streak, the Heat has outscored Chicago and Dallas by an average of 6.2 points in fourth quarters and overtime, holding the Bulls and Mavericks to 17.6 points during the final 12 minutes of regulation in those games.
“All year I think we’ve done a better job of closing games on the defensive end than we did on the offensive end,” Wade said. “When we went through our five-game losing streak, we weren’t closing games on the defensive end. All the talk was about what we [weren’t] doing offensively — too much one-on-one.
“We weren’t closing games on the defensive end.”
If there is such a thing, James has served as the Heat’s defensive closer during the 2011 playoffs. His versatility as a defender has allowed Spoelstra flexibility late in games that is unique in the game of basketball. If the parquet were a chessboard, then the self-proclaimed King would be the mighty queen, the all-powerful chess piece with the ability to slide in all directions and finish off an opponent with lethal and clever creativity.
In the Eastern Conference finals, James lined up against Bulls guard Derrick Rose late in games and shut down the league’s MVP. Rose could barely manage a shot in crunch time when guarded by James. Terry found Tuesday night’s Game 1 just as difficult.
“You know, with him, [James] has a size advantage and he uses his strength very well,” Terry said. “But he’s still quick. He’s still quick enough to kind of stay in front of you.”
James’ combination of size and speed signaled a checkmate in a game that forced Dallas out of its game plan from beginning. Dallas entered the NBA Finals averaging 75.2 shots per game. In the Western Conference finals, matched against an opponent that suited Dallas’ fast-paced tempo, the Mavericks averaged 78.8 shots per game. On Tuesday, as Marion noted with a sense of frustration, Dallas had 67.
“We’re just going to have to be a lot more active, looking for opportunities in transition,” Terry said. “And then, other than that, stand in the corner and let [James] guard me. I don’t want to give away all my secrets. We’ll see if it works.”