Sunday, June 12, 2011

NBA Update: All Hail the Mavs

Well, I was wrong. When the playoffs started, I said that there were five teams with a chance to win the title: the Lakers, the Spurs, the Celtics, the Bulls, and the Heat. I disregarded the Mavs on the grounds that they've been flaming out in the playoffs for years, and there was no reason to believe they would do better now. But they beat Miami 105-95 tonight, and they are now the NBA Champions for the first time in their history.

The Mavs proved to be this year's version of the San Antonio Spurs. While teams like the Heat, the Thunder, and the Bulls relied on spectacular young talent, the Mavs knew how to play as a team. And a good team -- that can play as a team -- will almost always beat raw talent.

This year, there were four teams with the knowledge and skill to run a good half-court offense. But the Celtics were hampered by an injury to Rajon Rondo, the Spurs were simply too old, and the Lakers went down under a barrage of three-pointers from Dallas. That left the Mavs.

The Mavs had very little trouble with Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals, while the Heat won the all-athletic title over the Bulls. In the first two games, it looked as though the Mavs would be overwhelmed by the Heat's athleticism -- Miami won Game 1 and had a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 2. But Dallas finally started hitting its shots, and the Mavs came roaring back with a 22-5 run down the stretch to knot the series. Miami hung on for an 88-86 win in Game 3 to retake the series lead, but Dallas now had Miami's measure. Like Muhammad Ali against George Foreman, Dallas knew that they could take Miami's best punch and survive -- because they knew that when push came to shove, they could get open shots and Miami could not. After that it got easier and easier for Dallas: a three-point win in Game 4, a nine-point win in Game 5, and a 10-point win (on the road) in Game 6. As the series continued, Dallas just kept finding more and more holes in Miami, while the Heat grew increasingly frantic.

When athletic teams like the Heat are in trouble, their instinct is to respond by playing harder -- especially on defense. And Miami played extremely hard. I don't care what the folks on ESPN say; LeBron, Wade, and Bosh gave it their best in terms of effort. A lot of experts are going to trash Miami's Big 3, because the experts don't want to admit how little they know about basketball. But not me. The Heat did almost exactly what I thought they would do. But Dallas's team play was much more coherent and well-organized than I had expected.

There's only so hard you can play in basketball. At some point, if you are going up against a well-organized team, you have to know how to execute team basketball. Miami simply couldn't do this. Time and time again, a Dallas possession would end with a wide-open three-point shot, while a Miami possession would end with a desperate heave trying to beat the shot clock. Over the course of a seven-game series, those are impossible odds to overcome.

Presumably the Heat will now fire their coach and look for a veteran point guard -- or even a young point guard. Running the offense through Wade and James just doesn't work; Miami struggled to score in the fourth quarter against the Celtics, the Bulls, and the Mavs.

But enough about Miami, who have gotten too much attention as it is. This series was a particular triumph for two old veterans who have been chasing a ring for a very long time: Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd. And it is a triumph for everyone who believes in team basketball. And that's a pretty good result.

1 comment:

  1. Great coverage all season long, GoHeath. Thanks! I spent about 20 minutes watching the NBA this season and about three hours total reading your commentaries. Completely satisfied with that ratio.

    Congratulations to Morganfield's Dwane Casey.