Mavericks

NBA Finals Game 1 Analysis: LeBron James Leads Heat Past Mavs

| by Hoops Karma

Doing a little bit of everything, LeBron James ended up with a phenomenal line of 24 points (4-5 from three), 9 rebounds, 5 assists, plus he played great D on Jason Terry in the second half to lead Miami to the win.

Running notes from Jonathan Gault during Miami's 92-84 Game One victory. 

1st Quarter

Dallas opens with DeShawn Stevenson on LeBron James and Shawn Marion on Dwyane Wade—the reverse of what many expected. Stevenson allows James a little bit too much space on the offensive end and James hits a pretty turnaround at 10:57. Dirk Nowitzki immediately responds by knocking down a jumper despite suffocating defense from Joel Anthony. 4-2, Miami.

Dallas is struggling offensively and has been a little lazy on defense. A one-minute segment midway through the period epitomizes their struggles. Jason Kidd posts up Mike Bibby but misses the ensuing nine-footer. After a Chris Bosh miss on the other end, LeBron picks Marion’s pocket and immediately attacks the rim. Dirk can’t decide between going straight up or fouling James hard, resulting in a James basket and a feeble and-one call on Nowitzki. James hits the free throw for an 11-5 Miami lead at 5:30.

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Despite 4-14 shooting in the first quarter, Dallas leads a low-scoring affair 17-16 after one. Miami has been brilliant at denying anything inside, daring Dallas shooters Peja Stojakovic, Jason Terry, and Kidd to beat them. So far, that’s worked out okay for Dallas, mainly because Miami shot 1-11 for the quarter outside of LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Dallas needs to be careful to limit second-chance opportunities though. Four of Miami’s eleven rebounds in the quarter were on the offensive glass.

2nd Quarter

Nothing’s going right for Dwyane Wade right now. He’s just 1-6 from the field and is blocked as he tries to put up a shot underneath the rim at 9:15. Wade leaps to keep the ball inbounds and tries to throw the ball off JJ Barea, but Barea catches it instead, leading to a Dallas fastbreak and two made Dirk Nowitzki free throws. 22-21, Dallas.

Shawn Marion posts up Mike Miller at 6:20 and manages to get an awkward shot to fall for a 26-25 Dallas lead. Marion’s production will be important for Dallas in this series; he’s only averaging 11 PPG in these playoffs, but can get hot for stretches and offers something on offense outside of three-point shooting.

We’ve come to expect so much from Dirk Nowitzki in these playoffs that it’s rather surprising when he starts 2-7 from the field. But Dirk hits two in a row towards the end of the third, connecting on a three-pointer, followed by a turnover by Wade and a bank shot from mid-range to give Dallas a 36-35 lead with 2:19 to go.

With Wade struggling, Mario Chalmers has stepped up for the Heat. His three-pointer with 25 seconds to go brings the Heat within one, his third three-pointer in five minutes. When Chalmers, a 37% 3FG shooter during these playoffs, gets hot, he gives the Heat an answer to Dallas’ plethora of outside shooters. With James Jones out of action since Game 2 of the Chicago series and Mike Miller shooting just 4-19 on threes in the playoffs, Chalmers is Miami’s only shot at a reliable three-point shooter right now.

Dallas heads into the break clinging to a slender 44-43 lead. For Game 1 of the Finals, this game has been pretty watchable. Both teams are capable of better, particularly in the shooting department (the teams combined to shoot 37% in the half). Both Bosh and James have been very good for Miami, particularly Bosh, who has shot 4-for-9 from the field and 5-for-6 from the line for 13 points and 7 rebounds. Not only that, he’s second in the game in plus/minus at +8. No other Miami player is better than +2.

3rd quarter

Dallas opens the third quickly, as jumpers from Marion and Nowitzki and a three from DeShawn Stevenson account for a quick 7-0 run to make it 51-43, enough for Erik Spoelstra to call timeout just 1:57 into the second half.

Dwyane Wade’s heating up. After a 1-for-6 start, (and 0-for-3 from the FT line) he’s hit five of his last eight shots and is now tied for the game’s top scorer after hitting a pair of free throws to make it with 4:36 remaining.

LeBron closes the half with a fadeaway three-pointer at the buzzer to put Miami up 65-61. He’s now 4-4 on threes. James isn’t typically a great three-point shooter (33% career), but he’s hit some big ones in this postseason. Forcing James to beat you from outside has been a traditional strategy for limiting him offensively. If he starts making those, you might as well just give up.

4th quarter

Dallas needs to go on a big run early in the fourth. These close, back and forth affairs (no team has led by more than six) are the kind of games that Miami has pulled out time and again down the stretch in these playoffs. The Mavericks need to get something going to give themselves a chance.

Two offensive rebounds and a foul on Stevenson gives Miami a 56-second possession midway through the fourth, culminating with a nice feed from Bosh to Udonis Haslem for a layup as the crowd goes bonkers. To make matters worse, Nowitzki hits Haslem on the way up, as Haslem hits the free throw to put Miami up 75-69 with 6:35 to play.

Dwyane Wade shows his tremendous worth in crunch time, sending Miami on its way to victory. First, he comes out of nowhere to block Shawn Marion’s jumper. Seconds later, he takes the ball down and pulls up for a three, putting Miami up 82-73 with 3:05 to play.

As they have throughout the playoffs, the Heat got the stops down the stretch while making shots on the offensive end, pulling away for a 92-84 victory to improve to 9-0 at home in the postseason.

Conclusions

The big difference in the second half? Bench scoring. Three Brendan Haywood free throws were all Dallas got from their bench, which shot 4-for-21 overall, including an 0-for-3 effort in the second half from Jason Terry. LeBron James simply took Terry out of the game in the second half, which has to be demoralizing to a team. When one guy can single-handedly take away your #2 offensive threat, you’re not going to win very often. The fact that the Mavs were close down the stretch without getting anything from Terry was impressive, but it was apparent down the stretch that Dirk was their only viable scoring option.

Two other things hurt the Mavs apart from their bench. The first was the Heat’s ability to shoot 11-for-24 (46%) on threes. If James and Wade (who combined to hit six threes) are knocking shots down from outside, it’s very difficult to stop Miami’s offense. Dallas’ other issue was on the boards, where they were out-rebounded 46-36, including 16-6 on the offensive glass. Dallas isn’t a great rebounding team, but seven-footers Tyson Chandler, Brendan Haywood, and Dirk Nowitkzi really need to assert themselves on the boards. Dallas had enough trouble scoring (only Dirk, Marion, and Terry reached double-digits); they can’t allow the Heat any more chances when they have the ball.

Miami won the game despite the fact that two of their starters were held scoreless (Mike Bibby and Joel Anthony). The simple truth is that Miami only needs a few players to get going to win (the Big Three and maybe one other), so it doesn’t really matter if they don’t get much from their supporting cast.

In eight of the last nine Finals, the winner of Game 1 has gone on to win the series. With the way they’re playing, and home-court advantage in the series, I see Miami continuing this trend in 2011.