The Heat made several interesting adjustments in Game 3. The most obvious, of course, was to take Lebron off of Jason Terry. The Heat matched up conventionally, with Lebron guarding the three, usually Shawn Marion, and Wade guarding the two.
They also changed their pick and roll defense, which Carlisle had so brilliantly burned them with in Game 2. They started blitzing the ball-handler, to shut off the playmaker’s option to penetrate or shoot himself. After the pass was forced, the rotations began, with Lebron or another big rotating to Nowitzki. This worked well in my estimation, and why wouldn’t it? The Heat are probably the fastest, most athletic team in the league, and the fastest at making rotations and running out to the three point shooters. Why not put that to good use?
The Heat also made, of course, an adjustment to their crunch-time defense of Nowitzki. Particularly in that play down the stretch when they pulled a surprise double team (heaven forfend!) on Nowitzki as soon as he put the ball on the floor, and forced him into a rushed wild pass to the wing resulting in a turnover.
But the rest of the time they single-covered Dirk with Haslem — the pusillanimous Bosh was not allowed anywhere near him. And very interestingly to me, the Heat maintained that single coverage on the last play of the game, with Dallas needing two to tie and three to win. After giving this some thought, I’ve decided this was exactly right. If you double-team Nowitzki there, you give him a chance to find the open man for a three to win. By single-covering him, the worst you are risking is a tie, and overtime. Clearly the better choice, particularly when you have a defensive weapon like Haslem at your disposal. In the event, Haslem used his physicality to force Dirk into a tough 20-foot turnaround fade-away that hit the back rim. Remind me again why Spoelstra guarded Dirk with Bosh on the final play of game 2?
Spoelstra will probably get the credit for these critical adjustments, as well as the credit for winning the championship. But my intuition tells me that Pat Riley deserves it more.
For those NBA conspiracy theorists out there, of which I am definitely one, this game deserves a place in the archive. I could see the handwriting on the wall in the first quarter, and tweeted as much. As the game wore on, others like Bill Simmons and HoopsHype.com added their voices to mine. The officiating crew, led by Danny Crawford, did everything possible to keep the Mavericks in this game, resulting in one of the worst officiated games in NBA history.
I’ll not take the time to go over every blatant missed call, although that crunch time “foul” committed by Haslem on Dirk took the cake. I’ll just point out the 27-15 free throw disparity in favor of the team that was less athletic, and less aggressive in attacking the rim. And the fact that Chandler — with Haywood out, the Mavs were desperately thin at center — didn’t commit his first foul until 4:00 of the 3rd Q, and his second until 3:33 of the 4th Q. This is the same Chandler who got 5 fouls in each of the first two games. I’ll just leave it at that, and let you take the time to review the tape if you’re interested.
It was also interesting to me that Danny Crawford is known as the Mavs nemesis among referees. That’s probably the wrong way to view him. The more appropriate way to view him is as the NBA’s go-to ref when a series needs help to remain competetive and be extended. As Bill Simmons and this Mavs commentator have hinted.
The Lebron James/Dwayne Wade “Controversy”
After the game, the main stream media began spouting nonsense about Dwayne Wade being the real closer for the Miami Heat, and Lebron being second fiddle, etc. Doing what the main stream media does best, generating controversy and bitter emotions wherever possible, in the hope of selling papers and eyeballs and advancing their careers. While completely missing what’s really going on.
I predicted that Lebron would take a back seat to Wade in this series before it even began. It has absolutely nothing to do with which of Lebron or Wade is the better closer (in 2011, give me Lebron any day). It has to do with who is guarding them. There is no way that the Dallas Maverics can guard Dwayne Wade, except with their whole team. Jason Kidd and DeShawn Stevenson are too slow. Jason Terry and Jose Barea are too small.
Shawn Marion, on the other hand, is still very capable of guarding Lebron. Is Lebron somehow to blame for this? Is he too passive, shrinking from the moment? Nonsense. Garbage. Shawn Marion in his prime was an all-world defender, and is still one of the very few human beings on this earth who compares with Lebron in size and athleticism. He is actually more athletic than Lebron — probably both quicker and a higher leaper in his prime — and very nearly his size. Like Lebron, Marion is large and strong enough to play power forward, and in fact did play there for most of his career on the Phoenix Suns.
The Mavericks are allowing Marion to guard Lebron man-to-man, and despite getting badly beaten on occasion, he’s done a pretty great job of keeping Lebron out of the lane. And the Heat — after the multiple coaching brainfarts of game 2 — have responded smartly by making Lebron a facilitator and Wade the focus of the offense. It is Dwayne Wade in this series who has the power to completely warp the opponent’s defense.
Just as it was Lebron in the previous series.
The Heat are now doing exactly what they should do in this series. And Lebron James, the consummate team player, is doing exactly what he should do as well.