Sweltering Heat: Miami Routs Dallas 98-74, Ties the Finals at 2-2Dwyane Wade had another marvelous game, scoring 36 points on 13-23 shooting from the field, and the Miami Heat tied their NBA Finals series with the Dallas Mavericks 2-2 with a 98-74 win. Miami held Dallas to seven fourth quarter points, a record low for any quarter in the NBA Finals. Shaquille O'Neal contributed 17 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots and James Posey had an excellent game off of the bench with 15 points, 10 rebounds and his usual strong defense. Jason Terry led Dallas with 17 points and Dirk Nowitzki and Jerry Stackhouse each scored 16. Terry shot 8-18 from the field but the rest of the Mavericks shot a horrendous 17-61 (.279), "led" by Nowitzki (2-14) and Josh Howard (1-8, three points). It is unlikely that Dallas will shoot that badly again in this series but a bigger concern is the team's overall lack of aggressiveness. Miami outrebounded Dallas for the second consecutive game after the Mavericks consistently outrebounded their oppponents throughout the playoffs.
The final result will surely cause a lot of people to say that the Heat built on the momentum of their game three win but Dallas started out the game by making seven of their first 12 shots. There was no indication that blowing a big lead late in game three was affecting the Mavericks at all. Ironically, things started to turn in Miami's favor when Nowitzki drew O'Neal's second foul, forcing the Diesel to the bench for the remainder of the quarter. The Heat outscored the Mavericks 21-14 after that to lead 30-25 at the end of the first quarter. Mindful of his team's slow starts in the previous three games, Dallas Coach Avery Johnson started Devin Harris in place of Adrian Griffin, hoping that a quicker lineup would do a better job of containing Wade but it is fair to say that this adjustment backfired; Wade had 14 first quarter points.
Miami got some separation midway through the second quarter when James Posey and Jason Williams hit consecutive three-pointers to put the Heat up 40-31. Miami led 54-44 at halftime. Wade had 24 points on 9-14 shooting and O'Neal, limited to 14 minutes because of foul trouble, had six points and three rebounds. His backup, Alonzo Mourning, provided a lot of energy: four points, four rebounds, three blocked shots. Nowitzki crawled into double figures (13 points) because of his 8-9 free throw shooting but hit only two of his nine shots from the field.
The third quarter had belonged to Dallas in this series but not in game four. Miami extended the lead to 68-51 by the 7:04 mark. Shortly after that, Williams stole the ball and could have shot an uncontested layup. Instead, he flipped the ball back to O'Neal and Stackhouse delivered a flagrant foul to force O'Neal to make two free throws. Of course, this play will be shown endlessly on TV and overanalyzed to death, but the simple fact is that Stackhouse went after O'Neal aggressively because O'Neal is a poor free throw shooter and if you don't deliver a hard foul then he will dunk you and the ball in the basket. Was it in the back of Stackhouse's mind that earlier in the series O'Neal opened a gash in his nose that required stitches? Only Stackhouse can answer that. Stackhouse went for the block with one hand, but he was so far behind O'Neal and O'Neal is so big that Stackhouse's trailing arm/shoulder delivered a blow to O'Neal's head, sending him careening into the front row. Any foul of that nature is automatically ruled a flagrant foul. After the game, some of the ESPN analysts suggested that Stackhouse might be suspended but I don't think that he will be.
Wade ran over to prevent O'Neal from going after Stackhouse; meanwhile, Antoine Walker got a technical foul for confronting Stackhouse. When the dust settled, Stackhouse made his free throw, O'Neal made both of his and then Wade got fouled and made two free throws on the ensuing possession--so the Heat gained three points and led 72-52. Neither team seemed to get particularly fired up from this sequence. Miami maintained a 15-20 point lead for most of the quarter until a late 8-0 run by Dallas closed the margin to 78-67, putting the Mavericks within striking distance entering the fourth quarter.
Harris' free throw brought Dallas to within 80-70 at the 10:34 mark in the final period, but that was as close as the Mavericks would get, primarily because they missed 10 of their first 11 shots in the quarter. Miami outscored Dallas 20-7 in the fourth quarter, totals which look like they belong in a Dolphins-Cowboys boxscore instead of an NBA Finals boxscore.
Only one home team has swept the middle three games since the NBA Finals went to the 2-3-2 format in 1985. ABC's Mike Breen offered some words of wisdom as the final seconds ticked off of the clock in game four: "Each game takes on a life of its own. You can't overreact to a win or a loss." I liked Dallas in six games at the start of the series, I didn't expect Dallas to sweep the Heat even after the first two games and I still like Dallas in six now.
posted by David Friedman @ 12:40 AM