By Curtis Kitchen
The Dallas Mavericks did everything right to steal a road win in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Dirk Nowitzki hit shots. The Mavs held Miami in check. Dallas never lost its composure in a hostile environment – even after a dismal shooting start. All of it was almost enough.
It was just that darn Dwayne Wade, who finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds. In one fourth-quarter sequence, Wade first stuffed Shawn Marion and then drained a three with Jason Kidd in his face to erase Dallas’ chance to get a huge win. It was over from there.
Wade, along with several unbelievable shots from LeBron James (including a fall-away three to end the third quarter), proved that at this time of the year, a team can do virtually everything right and still lose as the Mavericks did in dropping a spectacular series opener 92-84 at American Airlines Arena.
Before Tuesday night, I thought the Mavs would have to score above 95 points to have a chance in any game to beat the Heat. And, while Miami’s defense was stellar throughout, offensively, it was Dallas’ lack of bench scoring to alleviate pressure on Dirk that stifled any real chance at victory.
Miami coach Eric Spoelstra’s decision to neutralize Jason Terry with LeBron James (who also managed a team-high 24 points to go with nine boards) was also a stroke of genius as Terry finished with just 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting. Terry’s 12 accounted for nearly all of the team’s 17 bench points. J.J. Barea, who had been a sparkplug throughout the postseason, was just 1-of-8 from the field – and most of those attempts were poor decisions on wild drives into the lane and over much taller hands.
Defensively, Dallas simply got destroyed on the boards. Led by Chris Bosh’s five, the Heat had 16 offensive rebounds to the Mavs’ 6. Miami was masterful inside the paint, controlling multiple opportunities and wearing Dallas out. That type of grind took its toll on the Mavs, age or not, and it showed late in fourth quarter as Miami shifted gears while the Mavs’ engine sputtered.
Bottom line: Miami flexed its muscle on a lot of fronts in Game 1, but it took almost impossible shots from James and a resurgence from a silent-early Wade to get it done. The cliché is that big players make plays, and it held true for Miami’s best two. However, the team defensive for Miami was huge and keeping the Mavs off of the offensive glass went a long way toward the “W”.
Miami will have to find a little more offense, which won’t be easy. But, Dallas has to find more; somehow get Terry on track if LeBron is going to guard him the entire series, and carve a bigger presence in the paint (Tyson Chandler was a no-show with nine points and only four rebounds in over 33 minutes).
It’s a tall order, but hey, it’s the Finals. If Dallas doesn’t get those things figured out, it could be a short series.