"Foul" Shooting Sinks Heat In Game One of the FinalsThe Miami Heat set an NBA Finals record for worst team free throw percentage (.368) and lost 90-80 to the Dallas Mavericks. Miami's point total is the fifth lowest in game one of a Finals game in the shot clock era (i.e., since 1954-55). Jason Terry led the victors with 32 points on 13-18 field goal shooting. Dirk Nowitzki shot only 4-14 from the field, finishing with 16 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals. Josh Howard also had a poor shooting night (3-14) but filled up the boxscore with 10 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. Dwyane Wade led the Heat with 28 points, adding six rebounds, six assists and four steals. He also had five turnovers and shot only 5-18 from the field in the last three quarters of the game after hitting 6 of his first 7 shots. Shaquille O'Neal had 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists on 8-11 field goal shooting. Antoine Walker contributed 17 points, six rebounds and four assists. He made some really nice plays but also had six turnovers and shot 7-19 from the field. The blame for the Heat's poor foul shooting lands squarely on the shoulders of their two stars--they accounted for all of the team's free throw attempts, with Wade shooting 6-10 and O'Neal 1-9, not including two misses that were wiped away by lane violations.
Miami came out blazing in the first quarter, shooting .700 from the field (14-20) and taking a 31-23 lead. Wade had 13 points, repeatedly blowing by Adrian Griffin. Late in the quarter, the Mavericks switched Howard on to Wade. More than halfway through the second quarter Miami led 42-36 and Nowitzki and Howard had combined to shoot 3-14 from the field. Dallas then employed a zone defense that seemed to completely befuddle Miami, leading to several turnovers and fueling a 10-2 run to close the quarter. Nowitzki's jump shot at the buzzer gave Dallas a 46-44 lead and it was clear that Miami was in trouble; the Heat had shot the ball well, contained Dallas' best player and kept the pace of the game right where they wanted it and were still trailing. Terry shot 9-11 from the field in the first half and led all scorers with 20 points, making up for Nowitzki only shooting 2-8 and scoring eight points.
Dallas extended the margin to 52-46 early in the third quarter. Then, after only committing three turnovers in the first half the Mavericks had seven in the third quarter alone. Despite his big first half, Terry did not take a shot in the third quarter. Yet, even with these miscues by Dallas, the Heat still trailed 70-68 going into the fourth quarter. Terry hit his first shot of the final period to give Dallas a 72-68 lead and had 12 of Dallas' 20 fourth quarter points, equaling the output of Miami's entire team. His back to back three pointers gave the Mavericks an 82-72 lead with 7:54 remaining but his missed breakaway layup shortly afterward breathed some life into the Heat. Miami went on a 7-0 run after that play but that was as close as the Heat would get.
It is important to not read too much into the outcome of one game or the trends that developed within that game. Each game within a series has a different rhythm. Still, there were some interesting things in game one that bear watching:
1) Shaquille O'Neal's primary complaint about playing with Kobe Bryant is that Bryant tried to do too much on his own and did not pass him the ball. O'Neal shot 8-11 from the field in this game and passed for five assists while commmitting two turnovers. Dwyane Wade shot 11-25 from the field and had six assists and five turnovers. Antoine Walker had 19 field goal attempts, including 9 from three point range. The Heat were most effective when the ball was going in to O'Neal on the block, yet Wade and Walker spent most of the second half committing turnovers and jacking up shots. It is one thing for O'Neal to limit his shot attempts while pacing himself during the regular season but now would seem to be the time to get him the ball frequently. Even if he is missing his free throws he still can get the Mavericks in foul trouble and put the Heat in the bonus. Plus, O'Neal is shooting a good percentage from the floor and making excellent passes when he is double-teamed.
2) ESPN's John Saunders said that if the Heat had made their free throws there might have been a different outcome. That is not really true, because Miami would have had to shoot 17-19 just to tie the score, which is not likely with O'Neal attempting so many of the team's free throws. What really killed the Heat was shooting 20-58 from the field in the last three quarters of the game. "Foul" shooting hurt them even more than their poor foul shooting; Dallas outscored Miami 67-49 after the first quarter.
3) The fact that Wade and O'Neal were the only two Heat players to attempt free throws points out an important problem for Miami--no one else on the team can consistently create a shot for himself or draw fouls.
4) Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard will not likely shoot a combined 7-28 from the field again in the series. That is NOT good news for Miami.
5) Miami looked more clueless trying to attack Dallas' zone than Homer Simpson trying to figure out particle physics.
6) Miami's poor perimeter defense and slow defensive rotations made Jason Terry look like Allen Iverson. Detroit and New Jersey's perimeter players should have made a more determined effort to attack Miami in this way.
7) Dallas' superior depth played a key role in the outcome. Only three Miami reserves played--Gary Payton, James Posey and Alonzo Mourning--and they combined to score two points, while five Dallas non-starters totaled 24 points. As the series progresses this will surely become an even more important factor.
The series is not over after one game, even though history tells us that game one winners ultimately take the series more than 70% of the time. However, this game highlighted a lot of Dallas' strengths and Miami's weaknesses. Dallas played a far from perfect game and still won by 10 points. It will be interesting to see what adjustments Pat Riley makes, particularly in terms of getting more touches for O'Neal and containing Terry without letting Nowitzki and Howard go wild.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:59 AM