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Friday, June 09, 2006

"Foul" Shooting Sinks Heat In Game One of the Finals

The 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


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At Friday, June 09, 2006 4:19:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you think the critics who hailed this series as a welcome departure from the past two "boring" championships will suddenly change their tune in the wake of Game 1's inept shooting and passing? Or is the presence of league-approved superstars enough to sanction this as the way it should be?

At Friday, June 09, 2006 8:56:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

This series is over. True indeed each game has its own rhythm but I noticed some things:

At the end of the game Shaquille was tired. He got outrebounded by Erica Dampier on one play. On another play he took a tired turnaround hook shot with like 2 minutes left. Of course his free throw shooting is terrible.

He played 38 minutes which is a lot but this is the Finals. But Mourning needs to be more of a factor like he was during the season when he was healthy.

All teams with great centers are effective when you give them the ball early and often. Shaq only had 11 shots, which means that Riley probably has them practicing right now telling the team to get him more shots. Riley knows the game begins and ends with the center and will make that adjustment. The only problem with that is the O'Neal fatigue factor.
If the Mavs push the ball all game, there is no way Miami can win because of O'Neal. He will tire at the end of games. The Bulls ran but were a jump shooting team with no inside game. They played Miami better than the Pistons or Nets. The running game is the obvious key. The difference is the Mavs have players who can score inside and outside.

Also the Heat have NO shooters. David, every shooter Miami has is so streaky.
If Dallas wins Sunday, Miami is in trouble. I know Miami has 3 at home but this is different. I didnt even mention Dirk not having a Dirk type-game.

At Friday, June 09, 2006 3:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I enjoyed last year's Finals even though casual fans may have felt that it resembled trench warfare at times; that makes it difficult for me to speculate about what critics may say about this series. Plus, we've only seen one game.

As for the series being over, I picked Dallas from the beginning--actually, as soon as the Mavs knocked off the Spurs, my original pick to win the title. So, from that standpoint, I am not surprised by what happened in game one and fully expect Dallas to win the title. On the other hand, years of watching NBA basketball have shown me that, as Kobe said, "everything turns on a trifle." A sprained ankle, foul trouble, a fight that leads to suspensions--a lot of things could happen to change things around. That said, I agree with your analysis: fatigue could very well become a factor with Shaq; the running game is very important versus Miami; Miami's shooters are streaky.

Sunday's game is very important for Miami because history shows that it is very difficult to win the middle three games of the Finals at home. Dallas will probably get at least one of those, so Miami needs to get a win in Dallas now.

When I talked about this series on BetUS.com radio this week I mentioned that the series may not be as close as some people think. I almost hate to say that because it would be good for the NBA to have a competitive Finals, but Dallas has some very pronounced advantages over Miami. I am sticking with Dallas in six but, as I said on the radio, I would not be surprised if Dallas won in five.

At Saturday, June 10, 2006 3:59:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Very true it could be Dallas in five. You always seem to get Bryant's name in there. Hes right though anything can happen.

Last years series was very good. I think its crazy that the Pistons can win game six in San Antonio and then lose game seven. No team has done that since the 2-3-2 format. Do you like the 2-3-2 format?

At Saturday, June 10, 2006 8:17:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

to me what stood out was the low basketball intelligence of the miami players, especially walker and jason williams.they lost their people so many times!
and of course, the heat should be slowing it down as much as posssible - i wonder why they didn't do that?

At Saturday, June 10, 2006 4:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

What was really crazy was Sheed leaving Horry open for the three pointer in game five. Detroit just seemed to run out of steam at the end of game seven.

The Finals changed to the 2-3-2 format in the mid-80's to save on travel expenses. At that time the Finals usually involved L.A. and Boston/Philly and it was considered too expensive to fly coast to coast so many times in a 2-2-1-1-1 format. Yes, this was before the NBA signed the super-big TV deals--and, in fact, only a few years after the Finals were shown on tape delay. The 2-2-1-1-1 format is more fair, in my opinion, because it is very difficult to win three games in a row at home. That puts a lot of pressure on the team with the middle three games.

I'm not sure that Walker and Williams are displaying low basketball IQ on defense; their problem is lack of foot speed compared to who they are guarding. If Miami would throw the ball into Shaq more, that would slow the game down. Taking so many outside shots fuels Dallas' transition opportunities. The question is whether or not Shaq is capable of shouldering the load game after game in a seven game series but Miami did not really go to him enough to even find out.


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