Just finished watching the game for the second time. I watched it the first time out of the corner of my eye from my seat at the 5-10 no limit poker table at Lucky Chances… and quite predictably, my own play suffered greatly in crunch time.
To me this game highlighted the biggest edge that Dallas has over Miami: at Head Coach. Carlisle is an absolute genius: the adjustments he made (staggered screens, etc.) to get Nowitzki open against one of the toughest defenses in history were beautiful. And he does it on the fly, mid-game, which is the hallmark of the elite.
Spoelstra is on the other end of the spectrum. He’s one of those coaches who screams in the huddles about better execution of what’s not working, instead of taking responsiblity himself for what’s not working, and making a tactical response. Spoelstra’s absolutely helpless mid-game. The Heat’s major adjustments occur between games, and I have little doubt originate from the mind of Pat Riley.
Did you notice the defense on that Nowitzki three-pointer that put the Mavs up three? The Heat didn’t switch on the screen between Terry (guarded by James) and Chandler (guarded by Bosh). James followed Terry, and Bosh sagged off Chandler, allowing Chandler to set a second screen on Haslem, pinning him down. Nowitzki was left wide open.
So brilliant on Carlisle’s part. James is on Terry so he can switch the pick and roll with Nowitzki. So Carlisle made Chandler the screener instead. Miami doesn’t want James on Chandler and Bosh on Terry, so they declined to switch. All three of Miami’s big men were left watching helplessly as Nowitzki’s shot arced through stunned silence.
And so miserably bad on Spoelstra’s part. If you felt like James took the game off defensively, as I did, it’s partly because Carlisle’s game-planning left him completely out of the picture. With Spoelstra’s full acquiesence. Spoelstra has to make Lebron James the centerpiece of his defense, and to do that, he’s got to get him onto Nowitzki. Spoelstra played the wrong lineup, and the wrong matchups down the stretch.
As for the Heat’s offense down the stretch, what exactly was it? Get the ball and hold it, looking for slow-motion cuts. Swing the ball and repeat. Too often the ball wound up in Bosh’s hands at the end of the shot clock, which is exactly what you don’t want. You get a turnover, a forced shot, or a desperation outlet to Lebron or Wade for a desperation three.
But if you were to get either Haslem or Bosh off the floor, who would Nowitzki guard? You could run Wade in the pick and roll v. Nowitzki until Carlisle’s eyes rolled back in his head. The Heat’s failure to attack the basket in crunch time with the most athletic players in the universe was beyond ridiculous.
The last possession of the game was the absolute nadir. Bosh on Nowitzki? Seriously? Bosh is the softest power forward in the league, unless you want to count Brandan Wright. He didn’t even touch Nowitzki on that play. Not one bump. Why in the world do you have Udonis Haslem in the game, if not to guard Nowitzki? And are you seriously not going to double team Nowitzki’s dribble on the last possession? Force a pass and a three-point shot? And what about the foul to give? Baffling.
Pat Riley will head back to the blackboard for game three. The Heat will get back on the boards. Lebron will get back in the game defensively. And perhaps we might finally see a new and sensible defensive scheme against Nowitzki.
I’m loving watching Dirk and the Mavs execute Rick Carlisle’s brilliant improvisations, but I suspect that this game 2 collapse will ultimately mean nothing more to the Heat than the Mavs’ own collapse against Portland meant to them: a wake up call.
And I suspect that taking the Heat +2.5 in game 3 will be one of the better bets of these playoffs. Because as we all know — since we’ve heard it so often — it’s not coaches that win championships, it’s players.