LeBron James didn't have much to smile about after Game Four. For the first time in a long time, James failed to reach double digits in points, rebounds, and assists.
Running notes from Jonathan Gault during Dallas' 86-83 Game Four victory that knots the series 2-2.
JJ Barea has started just two games the entire season, yet Rick Carlisle elects to start him in Game 4 in place of DeShawn Stevenson. Barea’s only 5-for-23 in the series so far and has played no more than 19 minutes in any game, so it’s a bit puzzling that Carlisle would insert him into the starting lineup now.
Dirk Nowitzki gets going early, hitting his first three shots to stake Dallas to an early 6-0 lead. He’s been pretty average in the first three quarters of games in these Finals, so it’s a good sign for Dallas that Dirk’s been involved and productive in the opening minutes.
Chris Bosh responds in kind for the Heat, scoring the next three baskets to tie the game at 6 with 6:54 to go. People like to get on Bosh’s case, but he’s a very effective midrange shooter for a guy who stands 6-foot-10. Two of Bosh’s first three makes in Game 4 are from 15-17 feet, and his game-winner in Game 3 was from 16 feet.
Dallas has looked much better getting into the paint so far, as shown by Tyson Chandler’s rim-shaking dunk at 4:47 to put Dallas up 12-8. The dunk is Dallas’ third consecutive basket at the rim.
The teams end the first tied at 21, and that score represents some big missed opportunities for Dallas. The Heat’s final three points are undeserved—two on free throws after LeBron flops in the vicinity of Brendan Haywood (a terrible call), and one from the resulting technical on Rick Carlisle when he complains about it. But the main area Dallas needs to improve on is one that they do have control over—the glass. Miami outrebounds the Mavs 16-10 in the first, including 9 offensive rebounds, allowing the teams to remain tied despite the fact that Dallas shot almost twice as well (50%) as Miami did in the first quarter (29%).
Joel Anthony shows the different approaches of each team on the boards midway through the second quarter. Mario Chalmers drives in and his shot falls off the rim, but Anthony’s right there to follow it in while Tyson Chandler stands two feet away ball-watching. Two possessions later, a Nowitzki shot rims out and Chandler aggressively goes after the rebound. But Anthony is right there to box out Chandler and corrals the rebound for the Heat. That’s the game in a nutshell right now.
Wade is just a force of nature sometimes. With Shawn Marion guarding him 10 feet from the hoop, Wade turns and goes right through Marion, absorbing contact and elevating to the rim. The ball pops out, but goes in anyway, and after Wade hits the ensuing free throw, we’re tied 43-43 with 1:47 to go. Marion’s gotta be asking himself “What more can I do?”
This series has been incredibly tight, so it should come as no surprise that Miami leads 47-45 after two. Chris Bosh has been the key for the Heat, as their offense mostly ran through him in the first half. He heads to the break with 16 points on 8-for-12 shooting; perhaps his game-winner in Game 3 gave him the confidence he needed to overcome a horrible first two games (combined 9-for-34 shooting).
The bright spot for the Mavs? DeShawn Stevenson. Stevenson has been at his best so far for the Mavs, hitting three three-pointers for his first double-digit scoring outing of the playoffs. His defense on LeBron has been tremendous as well, as James struggled mightily to create in the first—he has just four points at the break. Dirk, meanwhile, after hitting his first three shots, finishes just one for his last seven. ABC sideline reporter Doris Burke’s announcement before the second half that Dirk has a fever and flu-like symptoms might explain Dirk’s ineffectiveness.
One reason why Bosh has been effective tonight is his aggressiveness—he receives a feed at the free throw line with 9:42 to play, and instead of drifting out for a mid-range jumper, he immediately attacks the basket, drawing the foul from Dirk and tying the game at 49.
Shawn Marion’s been in the NBA for 12 seasons, and I still don’t understand how he manages to score on a consistent basis. He banks in what appears to be an out-of-control running hook shot at 5:22 to put the Mavs up one. On second look, Marion used quite a bit of touch on the release, but it’s still a wonder that he can get his unconventional jumper to fall. Marion’s been huge for Dallas in this series though and has stepped up as a consistent second scorer while Jason Terry’s been in a funk. Midway through the third, he’s 7-for-11 from the field for 16 points.
Mark it down: 3:52 to go in the third quarter of Game 4—Dirk misses his first free-throw of the series.
The Heat were reduced to a two-man team in the third quarter—Wade and Bosh had all but four of their 22 points in the quarter—yet they still outscored the Mavs by two in the quarter, and the Heat lead 69-65 heading to the fourth. Miami’s been able to get by without an effective LeBron James thus far, and that’s what’s so frustrating about their three-star system—if the other two are on, they’re still very hard to beat.
Miami uses a 13-1 run from the end of the 3rd to the start of the fourth to turn a three-point deficit into a 9-point lead with 10:11 to go. But a couple Jason Terry baskets pulls the Mavs within five with 9:22 left in the game. Terry was one of the NBA’s top fourth-quarter scorers during the regular season—Dallas needs that kind of production within him tonight, especially with Dirk under the weather.
LeBron’s poor play has taken a mental toll. With a good look under the rim, James instead dishes to Bosh, who misses an 18-footer with 6:50 on the clock. Any other game, James takes that strong to the hoop.
Dallas gets some huge defensive stops in the middle of the quarter, and a huge part of it is due to the Heat’s reluctance to go to LeBron James. Miami turns it over 5 times in the first seven minutes of the quarter after a turnover-less third quarter. On the other end, Tyson Chandler is asserting himself, crashing the boards and taking it strong to the rim on drives and put-backs. After he’s fouled by Wade at the rim with 4:35, he hits one of two free throws to give the Mavs an 80-78 lead.
Another Miami meltdown in the fourth allows the Mavs to claw back into the series, as Dallas uses a 17-4 run midway through the quarter to pull ahead late. Dirk Nowitzki’s huge layup to put the Mavs up three with 14 seconds to go is the key play, as Mike Miller’s last-ditch three falls short, giving Dallas the victory 86-83, and evening the series at two games apiece.
No matter who won this game, it was going to be important. If Miami won, they’re up 3-1, a position from which no Finals team has ever lost (let alone with the final two games at home). The win for Dallas is just as big, because it’s now a best-of-three series and they have the momentum.
The last minute of Game 3 aside, Dirk has been ridiculous in the clutch this postseason. 10 of his 21 in Game 4 came in the fourth, including the game’s pivotal shot. No matter how he’s played in the first three quarter, he’s still a threat to take over when it matters—unlike LeBron James in Game 4.
While the lasting impact of LeBron’s no-show will be determined by the outcome of the series’ final games, he has to shoulder most, if not all, of the blame for the Heat’s loss. In a game-high 45 minutes, he had four turnovers and was 3-for-11 from the floor for eight points. More importantly, he denied the Heat of a valuable offensive option in the second half. Miami’s just not deep enough to absorb that kind of loss, as LeBron’s eight points were still third-highest on the team.
Beware the use of plus/minus: Jason Kidd, who was held scoreless for the first time in these playoffs and recorded three assists (the last time he had fewer in a game was in March 2009) and four turnovers, had a game high +12 rating. I think the metric has some uses, but this example exposes the fluky nature of the stat.
Both teams shot poorly from deep (2-for-14 for Miami, 4-for-19 for Dallas), and that’s huge in a series where the last three games have all been decided by three points or less. Big picture, it hurts Dallas more than Miami, and if the Mavs had lost this game, it would have been because of the stretch between 1:28 and 0:35. Dallas was desperately searching for a dagger, but missed three straight threes, keeping Miami in the game.
The key stretch of the game? Miami was held scoreless for five-and-a-half minutes in the middle of the fourth quarter, during which time Miami missed six shots, turned the ball over three times and committed two fouls, spurring a 9-0 Dallas run. Which Miami team will we see in the final three games? The one that mercilessly closed out teams in the first three rounds, or the one that suffered complete meltdowns to blow Games 2 and 4?
I called out Tyson Chandler early in the game for not being aggressive on the boards, and he responded in a big-time way, posting 16 rebounds (9 offensive) to go with an efficient 13 points on seven shots. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rick Carlisle chewed him out during a timeout early in the game. He was invaluable down the stretch, and his four offensive rebounds in the final six minutes not only provided Dallas with additional scoring opportunities, but, more importantly, allowed precious seconds to tick off the clock.
While we have a great series going, we were denied a historic moment at the end of Game 4. Just imagine what would have happened if Mike Miller’s shot had gone in and the Heat had come back to win in overtime. Doesn’t that shot, coming on the heels of Wade’s dive and dish to prevent a backcourt violation, go down as one of the greatest plays in NBA history?
Dirk Nowitzki has played all but 29 minutes in this series. In those 29 minutes he's spent on the bench, Dallas has been outscored by 35 points. Again, you have to be cautious of plus/minus, but coupling this with everything I’ve seen from the Mavs this season (primarily the Mavs’ 2-7 record without Dirk in the regular season), this stat seems on the mark.