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NBA Finals: Miami balances star power with rebounding grit in Game 1 win

Jun 1, 2011, 2:26 AM EDT

Dallas Mavericks v Miami Heat - Game One Getty Images

All that it’s taken for the Miami Heat to win games in this year’s playoffs is the ability to maintain reasonable margins. They go on runs, they shut down their opponents’ offensive options, and they stretch their legs with displays of supreme athleticism, but the body of the single-game narrative — the initial 43 or 44 minutes, as it were — is merely a precursor for the ludicrous feats of strength to come. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and co. aren’t merely closers, but the wielders of an unthinkable power; they keep games reasonable so that when the game dwindles to a close, their fundamentally unreasonable level of talent and ability can win most any game outright.

The Dallas Mavericks witnessed Miami’s explosive closing power firsthand in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, which was competitive until James and Wade said otherwise. The Heat sealed the game with insane shot-making and excellent chemistry, as the possibility of a Maverick comeback faded suddenly and violently despite the best, futile efforts of Dirk Nowitzki. Neither team played well enough offensively to dominate the initial game of the championship round, but Miami’s brutally effective late-game execution put a winnable game just out of reach for a Dallas team accustomed to late game heroics of their own. The result was a 92-84 Heat win and a 1-0 series lead.

There are elements at work in the game of basketball worth putting under the microscope, but the powers that enable James and Wade to do what they d are hardly worthy of such scientific examination. There are so few answers to be found in the dissection of expert shot-making; the cliché that big players make big plays is only so out of necessity, as the defining moments in sports of all ilks so often escape the bounds of logical analysis. “Sometimes it’s not about the schemes,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said following Game 1. “Sometimes it’s about transcending that with your effort, your athleticism, and your ability.” Wade and James are certainly no strangers to such transcendence, and their collective excellence provided the enduring snapshot of the 2011 NBA Finals’ opening salvo.

Still, if the Heat’s showing in Game 1 could have been distilled down to the performances of Wade and James alone, the Heat would be left looking for answers after a disappointing home loss. Miami was only in a position to win by way of their offensive rebounding (Miami collected an offensive board on roughly 35 percent of their misses) and scrambling defense (Dallas shot just 37.3 percent from the field overall), two aspects of the Heat’s performance that often go unnoticed thanks to the glare surrounding the team’s brightest stars.

“I think rebounding killed us tonight,” Shawn Marion said. “For the most part, we think we had chances to get a hold of this game and we let it get out of our hands.”

However, Marion’s diagnosis isn’t as simple as pointing a finger at the Maverick big men. Tyson Chandler may have had just four rebounds and Dirk Nowitzki a decent but insufficient eight, but the Mavs’ approach requires a better team-wide effort in attacking the glass. James, Wade, Mike Miller, Chris Bosh (who was especially effective on the glass, and grabbed a game-high five offensive boards), and Udonis Haslem are all strong positional rebounders, which makes the battle on the glass far more complicated than simply how well Chandler boxes out Bosh and Nowitzki boxes out Joel Anthony.

Plus, the defensive scheme that the Mavs are forced to rely on due to the slashing brilliance of James and Wade creates a position of inherent rebounding disadvantage, regardless of whether Dallas is working man-to-man or in their vaunted zone.

“Our bigs have to be active, containing their great players on the perimeter,” Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said. “So it draws them away from the basket some…Look, a lot of the game is a scramble. We have to keep five guys in there. We can’t have that kind of deficit [on the glass]. You leave too much to chance.”

That was precisely the problem for the Mavs in Game 1. Dallas may execute their offense better than any team in the entire league, but they are still victim to chance; to the probabilities of a ball falling through a metal rim. Even with the near-robotic muscle memory of a talented shooter — like Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, or Peja Stojakovic, for example — and the patient ball movement of a well-run offense, nothing is guaranteed. Shots will still be missed, and in the Mavs’ case in Game 1, plenty of makeable shots were. Dallas shot just 38.7 percent on shots within nine feet of the basket, and while Miami’s defense certainly played a role in challenging many of those attempts, not every floater, layup, or short jumper was contested enough to expect a miss. The Mavs just didn’t convert on a lot of the attempts they usually make (or draw fouls on), and the fact that a lot of those errant attempts came from an area of the floor that usually yields highly efficient looks only made matters worse.

The Mavs know where they need to improve. They know that the rebounding deficit needs to be slashed, and that their shooting percentages need to shoot upward. Yet while some of that is imminently fixable (if nothing else, we should expect the Dallas offense to return to its sweet-shooting form as Carlisle devises even more ways to create open looks for his team), the connection between the defensive coverage and rebounding troubles presents a legitimate quandary. Contesting the penetration of James and Wade is a full-time job in itself for any defense, but committing too heavily to that prevention puts bigs like Chandler out of position to compete on the glass. The Heat have an ideal combination of defense-drawing talent and hard-working rebounders, and though the riddle that such a combination produces isn’t necessarily unsolvable, it should give Carlisle and his staff plenty to think about between now and Thursday.

  1. diablito0402 - Jun 1, 2011 at 7:55 AM

    Pat riley is a genius. He finally got dwane wade a great supporting cast and two great role players in james and bosh. Heat in 5 and wade MVP of the finals.

    • gor76 - Jun 1, 2011 at 12:24 PM

      I agree they were great pickups, but why is it that after every positive play he makes, Bosh Spice contorts his face to resemble a pre-op tranny who just got his wallet stolen?

      • southbeachtalent - Jun 1, 2011 at 2:55 PM

        Some of you guys are obssessed with tranny’s??

        Bosh is shutting up the nay-sayers one game at a time.

  2. lucky5934 - Jun 1, 2011 at 9:00 AM

    Congrats to the Mini-All Star team for holding off a a tough Mavericks team. I would hate to see James quit on his team again, so good thing D-Wade stepped up for the Heat. Of course when you sign two all star talented players to join the third, my grandma could coach that team to a championship. Even if the Heat win the title, it will forever be tainted for Lebron because James had to do it with two other top notch players to finally get it done. At least Dwayne Wade already had a title.

    • okcallday - Jun 1, 2011 at 9:49 AM

      jesus, this senseless Heat-bashing is realllly starting to get old. find something productive to do with all that extra time.

    • andre504 - Jun 1, 2011 at 9:56 AM

      @lucky5934: Have you just started to watch the NBA? Have you ever heard of the Boston Celtics team of the 80’s and the LA Lakers of the 80’s? I believe that those teams had multiple stars as well, along with the recent Spurs dynasty, the early 2000 Lakers, the recent Celtic teams, and even the 90’s Bulls.You have to be kidding me. It is so funny to hear people hate on the Heat and not give them any credit. Those guys still have to go out there and PLAY the GAME. But guess what? You will just have to get use to the Heat winning many championships. “Even if the Heat win the title, it will forever be tainted for Lebron because James had to do it with other top notch players to finally get it done.” Yea, and Michael, Magic, Bill Russell, and Kobe did it on their own, give me a break man!

      • frobaggins - Jun 1, 2011 at 11:55 AM

        i could care less because the NBA playoffs is no different than the WWF king of the ring tourny, but having said that.. don’t try and use teams and the past to justify the heat team this year. the spurs best players: parker, manu, duncan..drafted by the spurs. the celtics teams? larry bird, kevin mchale, danny ainge.. drafted by the celtics. magic and worthy, drafted by the lakers. any heat fan who doesnt see the difference is being stubborn.

        and people say that about lebron cause he calls himself “king”. i suppose, symbolically speaking, how can you be king when you can’t take the throne by yourself?

  3. lucky5934 - Jun 1, 2011 at 9:02 AM

    BTW – if Pat Riley is such a genius, then why was he caught on camera sleeping in the stands at the 5:18 mark of the second period.

    • southbeachtalent - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:46 AM

      1.) Are you the only one that saw that?
      2.) Could he have gotten bored??
      3.) Do not question Pat “The Don” Riley’s actions, he is the messiah. The REAL EOY.

      • frobaggins - Jun 1, 2011 at 11:57 AM

        you understand that anyone of us could have gotten two players to sign with a team in miami with the best player in the world already on the team? whats so executive of the year about signing free agents like bosh and james?

    • denverhoopdreams - Jun 1, 2011 at 11:21 AM

      I hope someone goes back to the footage and finds this. Besides, Pat totally strikes me as the type of guy who only thinks the fourth quater is exciting.

      • denverhoopdreams - Jun 1, 2011 at 12:15 PM

        terrible spelling on quarter 😀.

  4. diablito0402 - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:28 AM

    Andre ….. We all heard of all those teams in the 80’s with multiple studs to win. But when have you heard of the supposely the best player on the planet to leave his team and jump on another superstars team to win. Shouldn’t everyone want to come to his team and join him.

    • andre504 - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:44 AM

      @diablito0402: The point is that NO ONE wanted to play in Cleveland with Lebron bro! Bosh and Wade has came out and said that this past week (look it up) and Cleveland did not have the cap space to sign another BIG free agent. Cleveland had Lebron for what, 7 years and did not provide him another superstar? Lebron even signed a 3 year extension to give them time to sign him another player and what do they give him? Shaq and Antawn Jamison! Get out of here man. Oh, and by the way, if you recall, Kobe Bryant demanded a trade a few years back and what did LA do? They brought him Pau Gasol and that what a great organization does. Why cant people just get over the fact that Lebron just wanted to better his situation, minus the “decision” and the parade. If it all comes down to winning a ring to him, he did what he had to do. Do your homework.

    • rbrown4495 - Jun 1, 2011 at 1:42 PM

      Shaquille Oneil did it to team up with Kobe, the greatest rebounder of our time Dennis Rodman did it to team up with Mike and Scotty. Next question

      • andre504 - Jun 1, 2011 at 2:19 PM

        @rbbrown4495: What does it matter that Lebron left Cleveland?The issue is that he knew that he could not win a championship in Cleveland with those C+ players. You talk about Shaq leaving Orlando to play “with Kobe”. If you remember Shaq was the most dominant player in the league during those LA championships. so that is a stretch to say that Shaq “teamed up with Kobe”. I think Shaq got finals MVP, what 3 times?? Just get over Lebron leaving Cleveland, like I said before no one wanted to play there. Lebron was smart enough to realize that he needed help, plain and simple. Take the hate out of the equation and be real man.

  5. southbeachtalent - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:41 AM


    While you are right about how poorly the Mavs shot, the Heat shot just as bad. The heat shot 73% from the stripe while the Mavs shot 78%. The Heat had 10 turnovers while the Mavs had 11. And finally the Heat shot 38% from the field while the Mavs shot 37%. Really a close game statistically, except for rebounding. In other words the Heat have a lot of room for improvement as well.

    Overall our defense is what’s making the difference and I don’t see that changing much. Dirk will blow up one of these nights and maybe score 30-35 pts, but that wont prevail in a 7 game series.

  6. diablito0402 - Jun 1, 2011 at 11:01 AM

    Andre… Good points and thats why i do my homework, by that is that you all and the media give lbj all the credit and the nba is using him tk sell the nba to the world by giving him everythin like saying his better than jordan. Lbj has all the talent in the world, but really, compared to jordan. Maybe 10 years from now. Maybe thats why lbj rubbs me the wrong way. But he aint even as good as kobe.

    • andre504 - Jun 1, 2011 at 11:18 AM

      @diablito0402: I have to agree and disagree with you that he is not MJ but I am not giving Lebron all of the credit. I just stated the facts of his situation, and in my opinion, Lebron has been the best player on the Heat this entire season, including playoffs. Check the efficiency ratings and stats when he is on and off the court. To say that Lebron is not even as good as Kobe I can argue that. I think if you asked almost anyone, any GM or manager in the NBA today who would you take to start your franchise, the answer would be Lebron. Yes, Kobe has the rings but Lebron has years left to get rings, that is if you are basing it off of rings. If you are basing your statement on just numbers and skill, I give it to Lebron only b/c of the numbers.
      Lebron his first 7 years statically better than Kobe’s first 7 years. Lebron is most def and better “all around” player than Kobe, Kobe is great as well but they are two different players. Could Kobe have taken the 2007 Cavs to a finals or win 60+ games with a mediocre cast? I think not just by looking at Kobes teams after Shaq and before Gasol…. Like I said, check the numbers, a lot of 40 win seasons and early playoff exits. We will get a better idea when both of their careers are over.

  7. lucky5934 - Jun 1, 2011 at 11:10 AM

    Which two top notch free agents did the Bulls and Lakers sign to to win multiple championships. The answer is NONE. The Bulls never went out and signed a top 3 NBA player to join Michael Jordan. Those teams were built the right way. Say what you want about the Heat Bashing, but anytime you bring a player in who conducted himself the way he did (from quitting in the playoffs on his team to making it a circus stunt when he made his decision, to the obnoxious introduction party the Heat gave those three players), he will draw criticism onto himself and his team.

    And to answer your question about the 80’s Celtics. Larry Bird was drafted 6th in 1978. McHale was drafted 3rd in 1980. Danny Ainge was also drafted by the 1980’s Celtics. Robert Parish was traded for, but at least they Golden State Warrios received something in return. If James wasn’t so damn selfish, he would have allowed the Cavs to trade him before his contract expired so they could get something in return. Instead he spun them along and they came away empty handed.

    1980’s Lakers – They drafted Magic Johnson in 1979. Kareem was traded for. Yet again another example of both teams getting something in return. He was also in his early 30’s when Magic Johnson came aboard. James Worthy was drafted by the Lakers in 1983. A.C. Green was drafted in 1985 by the Lakers. Byron Scott was acquired in a draft day trade for Norm Nixon.

    1990’s Bulls – They drafted Michael Jordan, Horace Grant, Toni Kukoc’,
    The Bulls traded for Bill Cartwright, but gave up Charles Oakley in the process. Scottie Pippen was acquired in a draft day trade. Steve Kerr was a journeyman who was on his forth team in 5 seasons by the time the Bulls signed him. Ron Harper was signed by the Bulls when Jordan retired the first time. Not to join him with the Bulls. Dennis Rodman was traded at the age of 34 to the Chicago Bulls in 1995 for Will Perdue. Which says a lot about his trade value at the time.

    The Spurs drafted most of those players. The lakers of the early 2000’s only had two players on that level in Kobe and Shaq. Recent Celtics? Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are good, but not on Lebron’s or Wade’s level. Kevin Garnett was on the downside of his career.

    So YES, I stand by my stance that the Heat bought themselves a championship. Lebron lost me as a fan the moment he quit on his team last year in the playoffs. None of the above mentioned stars EVER quit on their team during a playoff game. And don’t tell me he didn’t have talent around him. The Cavs didn’t make the NBA Finals on Lebron alone. Did he have the same level of talent as the Heat now? Absolutely not. But he chose to take the easy way out and sign with an all star line up and win a championship the cheap way. Do they still have to show up… sure they do. But it makes it much, much easier when you have Dwayne and Bosh around. Any top player in the NBA can make a clutch shot when the defense isn’t sure who is taking the last shot. The point I am trying to make though is a real man (like the players above) would have stuck by a team and helped them win a championship. He didn’t. He took the easy way out. And could he have been a Barkley or a Malone/Stockton and never win a title… yeah maybe. But at his age, their is no way of telling if that would ever have happened. He is talented and I assume he would have eventually won one. But Barkley, Malone, Stockton, Ewing, etc… never left their team behind while they were in their prime to join an all star cast via Free Agency. Lebron will easily be a top 5 NBA player by the time he is done. But he will forever be remembered as the guy who won a championship with an all star team and a lot less integrity.

    • andre504 - Jun 1, 2011 at 7:43 PM

      Lucky I appreciate and respect your knowledge, but lets be real man. I am evaluating Lebron as a basketball player and not as a “man”. You say Lebron is not a “real man”, oh yea you know him personally. That is beside the point though. My question to you would be if Lebron had stayed in Cleveland and they got him Bosh and Wade, would that have changed your opinion of him? My guess would be no because most people that hate the heat and lebron always say it was the “way” that he did it. I think that is crap and just one more excuse. And when you say all of those NBA teams did it the “right way”, what is the “right way” Lucky? Lebron did not break any rules, he was a free agent and decided to play with the Heat, after all of the big name free agents were signed. Just because Lebron was thinking progressively and basically did what all NBA front offices do behind the scenes makes Lebrons way of free agency the wrong way? I dont think so. Besides all of that draft talk you are stating, the bottom line is those teams still had multiple quality players and needed those players to win multiple championships. If the Heat were losing this conversation would not be brought up.

  8. lucky5934 - Jun 1, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    And for the record, I accept LeBron wanted to play in a better situation. But at least give the Cavs a chance to trade him for something in return. To lead them on and then say oh well… was a poor decision.

    And if I saw Pat Riley sleeping on a nationally broadcasted program… I seriously doubt I was the only guy who saw it. Go back and check the footage…

    • tiz305 - Jun 1, 2011 at 11:25 AM

      If Pat Riley was seen sleeping, it is because Pat Riley wanted to been seen sleeping. Feign weakness and then attack with strength.

      FTR, Shaq left Orlando entering the prime of his career to go play with Kobe and Phil Jackson. And he did not give Orlando a chance to trade him to get something in exchange. If your intention is to switch teams to have a better chance of winning, you are going to do whatever it takes to help the team your going to, not the team your leaving.

    • andre504 - Jun 1, 2011 at 11:26 AM

      Cavs had enough time man to give him help. Why would they trade Lebron in the middle of the season when the team had the best regular season record before and after the trading deadline heading into the playoffs? Also, what is the right way to leave. Carmelo begged Denver to be traded and he got criticized, Dwight has not said much and he is getting crushed, and Lebron just waited the last minute. The “decision” program was a poor decision, I agree, but the bottom line is all of those teams had those players and did not get it done, period.

      • lucky5934 - Jun 1, 2011 at 12:14 PM

        It’s called a sign and trade. Teams do it all the time. Lebron signs for the deal the other team wants and then he is traded. It is usually done in good faith and can happen at any point in the offseason. But it does take a player being up front that he is going to leave. Something clearly that did not happen.

      • frobaggins - Jun 1, 2011 at 12:18 PM

        what melo did was absurd, from a basketball management point of view it was way more selfish than james. i think the thing about james being traded, it was more of a sign and trade after the season, not trading him midseason, which doesn’t even makes sense. who knows the behind the scenes, but they said dan gilbert had no clue he was signing with miami till that night. my opinion on that is dan gilbert is wicked feeble and naive; and because of how important james was to the franchise, he could have at least acknowledged, privately, to the cavs that he likely wouldn’t resign and they’d be better off not counting on him and doing what they gotta do. the anti lebron in me is 99% sure that he didn’t want any info about his FA process being leaked cause either he and or maverick carter are selfish pricks. seriously though, how hard would it have been for james to tell the cavs “aint working here, we need to move on” before his atrocious show, rather than after while also having to defend himself. the entertainer in lebron got the best of him last summer, wasn’t thinking with his basketball brain

  9. andre504 - Jun 1, 2011 at 12:32 PM

    @lucky5934: Did you even read my response, lol! I did not say “How” could the Cavs trade Lebron in the middle of the season when the team had the best regular season record before and after the trading deadline heading into the playoffs, I said “WHY.” That is a big difference. By the way, I know what a sign and trade means….. READ.

  10. icu84bs - Jun 1, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    A sign and trade was worked out after the ‘decision’, that is the only way it could have worked for the parties involved. If Cleveland had traded LBJ they would have been crucified by the media and their fans. Cleveland would have wanted a great deal in return, gutting the team they would be trading Lebron to and negating LBJ’s chance to win a championship. A lose – lose scenario. This is what happened in New York with Carmelo.

    LBJ made the right choice, he (or more likely his management team) needs to make better PR decisions. Cheers.

  11. diablito0402 - Jun 1, 2011 at 6:57 PM

    Everyone cries that lebron never had help with him reaching the finals and then having the best record in the league twice. Who did jordan have, he made pippen who he was pip with out jordan waa anothe john starks. Jordan had bill winnington, bill cartwright, john paxton, horace grant, tony kukoc, craig hodges, luc longly should i go on. Who the hell are these people man. Jordan is the best hands down stop it people compare lbj to isiah thomas or someone else please.

  12. diablito0402 - Jun 1, 2011 at 8:19 PM

    Andre you must be a true lebron fan. I applaude you for that, not many people too vocal in defending him as you.

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