Monday, June 13, 2011

2011 NBA Finals - Series Recap

  • As I predicted with confidence before the Finals, the Dallas Mavericks won this series with their superior team game and shooting ability.  Although I was wrong about their team game having the advantage in Game 1, where Miami's defense proved to have the advantage before Dallas adjusted, Dallas successfully adjusted and got better with each game in getting good looks with greater frequency as they had become accustomed to throughout the postseason and Miami's defense failed to readjust.  This was particularly apparent in the last two games where Dallas' offense was extremely efficient.  Whereas James was able to single-handedly slow down Chicago's offense by blanketing Rose, he was not able to do so against a Dallas team that played better team basketball than anyone else in the playoffs.  
  • This series was a win for team basketball, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Dallas players consistently made each other better and got each other good looks.  Catching and shooting an open jumper is always better than getting a jump shot off the dribble through isolation and Dallas clearly valued this idea.  Dallas, when they weren't shooting good catch and shoot looks, focused on a few very specific things that played to the greatest strengths of the players doing those things, including isolation in the high post for Dirk with the threat of either taking outside shots or attacking the rim, some plays in the post for Marion, a few shots for Terry on pull-up mid-range jumpers off a couple hard dribbles, and Barea attacking the rim.  These are things all four of those players do very well and Dallas was disciplined in staying with those strengths, and getting shots for each other, particularly through the threats of Dirk, Terry and Barea.  
  • When James signed with Miami, he expected multiple championships, starting right away, thinking that since he was so close to a title with Cleveland, that adding Wade and Bosh guaranteed that.  He made the mistake of thinking that the whole is equal to the sum of the parts and they relied on their individual talent more than they focused on bettering each other with team play.  They got close with their talent and athleticism mostly through their defense, but their half court offense left lacking.  Miami certainly shared and moved the ball well at times, but they failed to do so with anywhere near the discipline and consistency Dallas did, and often fell back on isolation plays and contested shots.  Clearly, they have a little more work to do, specifically as it relates to teamwork
  • The changes that were keys to Dallas winning the series:
    • Carlisle's decision to start J.J. Barea and get him even more opportunities to attack the basket, correctly expecting him to convert on the attempts he was failing to convert on early in the series.  This not only allowed Stevenson's defense to come off the bench, preventing their defense from being top heavy with Chandler, Marion and Kidd already starting, but it also opened up things for Jason Terry, who handled the ball more and attacked the rim with more time with Barea off the floor, rather than just trying to catch and shoot over James.  
    • Terry's adjustment after starting this series slow was another key.  His veteran leadership and ability to take some pressure off Dirk offensively was invaluable to Dallas.  He really found his rhythm in the last two games, shooting 19 for 28, where he and Dallas were at their best offensively.  Playing less with Barea, who is most effective with the ball in his hands, also enabled this adjustment by Terry. 
    • Carlisle's decision to replace an ineffective Peja Stojakovic in the rotation with the hard-nosed Brian Cardinal was very important as well.  Stojakovic had great success in the Western Conference Playoffs, particularly against the Lakers and Trail Blazers, but against the athletic Thunder and particularly the bigger, stronger, faster Miami Heat, he struggled.  Cardinal stepped up, hit a couple shots from beyond the arc, made good passes, and generally played disciplined team offense and most importantly, played great, hard defense.  
  • As for the four Dallas players that started every game in the NBA Finals: 
    • Dirk was Dirk. He hit open shots, got to the line and also made some tough shots for most of the series.  His ability to play in the high post, something he wasn't nearly as effective doing a few years ago, also allowed him to create good opportunities for his teammates.  He keyed the Dallas comeback in Game 2 that reversed the momentum Miami had in the series, when every half court possession went through Dirk and they scored on 11 of their last 12 possessions.  
    • Jason Kidd made his presence felt most on the defensive end in addition to hitting some timely threes throughout the Finals. After some early problems with turnovers and moving the ball, he settled down, made the right passes and helped facilitate the offense as he always has.  His effort on the defensive end truly showed how much he wanted this title after 17 years in the league. 
    • Shawn Marion was a rock throughout this series.  He played great defense, guarding both James and Wade, and played great offense in the paint.  He finished inside, played within himself offensively, and got his hands on a lot of loose balls on both ends of the floor.  He redefined himself, and even though his numbers in Phoenix were better due to being inflated by his role in a high-paced Phoenix offense with Nash, he played the best team basketball of his life in these playoffs and was an indispensable piece of the team basketball Dallas plays. 
    • Tyson Chandler filled the role of defensive leader with his energy and length.  Offensively, he filled the role of getting his hands on rebounds, earning himself and his team offensive boards and second chances, and he finished around the basket when called upon to do so.  
  • These key changes and the way Dallas plays disciplined team basketball show that Rick Carlisle is without a doubt one of the best basketball minds and coaches in the league. Credit to Cuban for bringing in Carlisle (and also for their forward thinking in making founder Roland Beech a part of the coaching staff). 
  • Eric Spoelstra lost the coaching battle in this series, but he lost it to an amazing coach, and as a result is probably getting more flack than he deserves.  Although he hesitated in taking Bibby out of the lineup, Chalmers was consistently getting more minutes, and he may have simply been playing Bibby more with Anthony and Chalmers more with Haslem, clearly feeling that they were most effective in those combinations rather than necessarily feeling  that Bibby was better and should start.  He certainly says all the right things in interviews and in what we see from the looks into the locker room and huddle, and shows his knowledge of the game, but if I can only have one criticism, I fear he is not assertive enough with James and Wade, who often seem like they feel they can do no wrong.  James in particular continued to make some of the same mistakes throughout the series, and though most of this falls on James himself, Spoelstra needed to be assertive and hard on James to help correct some of his poor play and decision-making.  James has enough yes men and Spoelstra shouldn't be another one.  Some of his talk after the Finals was focused on how the media is unfair to James.  Though that may be true, that is not what James needs to hear to become a better player.  He doesn't need more excuses and certainly not from his coach.    Spoelstra is certainly a very capable coach and he, like the players, will only grow from this experience, and I hope Miami keeps him on and doesn't disrupt the chemistry the team has between the coaching staff and players that got them to the Finals in their first year together.  Firing Spoelstra would be a very short-sighted decision.  
  • For the Miami Heat players, James, Wade, Bosh and Chalmers were the key contributors.  In reverse order: 
    • Chalmers proved to be the only capable point guard for Miami and separated himself from Bibby.  This was apparent early in the series, and Eric Spoelstra took a few games too long to make the change from Bibby to Chalmers.  In fact, it appears from the rotation in Game 6, that he made this change not solely because Chalmers was outplaying Bibby, but because House gave him confidence with his play in Game 5 that he could count on him off the bench, and eliminated Bibby from the rotation entirely.  
    • Chris Bosh started slowly in this series, but turned it around after hitting the game winner in Game 3.  His play in Game 6 and his reaction after losing showed he wanted it more than anyone else on the team.  Unfortunately, he didn't do enough to make it happen.  He didn't call for the ball in the post enough, and he didn't get in the ears of James and Wade to get them to look for him more as he was hitting everything in Game 6.  
    • Dwyane Wade was the best Miami player offensively throughout this series.  He was also very strong defensively.  With the exception of Game 6, he was great in every game, including the minutes he played in Game 5 when he suffered a hip injury.  He was able to get to the rim better than James, and showed greater skill and feel for the game in creating opportunities for himself, which is why he was the focus in the 4th quarters of this series.  Wade could have done a better job scoring on mid-range jump shots as he has for so long, but with all the attention on James' 4th quarter disappearing acts, he probably didn't dominate the ball in the half-court as much as he maybe should have and didn't look for that mid-range shot with anywhere near the frequency he has in the past.  
    • Finally, LeBron James was disappointing offensively throughout most of the Finals.  It was well documented that he completely disappeared in the 4th quarters of the series.  He not only didn't take control of the ball, but he stood around and watched and did nothing to make his teammates better in crunch time.  He stood idly by and completely failed his team offensively.  When his shot wasn't falling and he wasn't getting anything outside of easy transition opportunities, he forgot that he could create for his teammates.  Credit Dallas' team defense and Marion in particular for stifling James, who was never able to consistently create opportunities for himself and his teammates.  James also has to work on improving his offense without the ball.  With his physical skills, there is no excuse for him not to be great in just about every aspect of the game, including his offensive play without the ball.  
  • An extra note about LeBron James.  He certainly isn't a sympathetic figure, not only due to "The Decision," the manner in which he left Cleveland, and his statements before the season ("not five, not six, not seven..."), but his actions and statements after losing this series and some in the past.  A little humility would go a long way for him not only in that regard, but also in allowing him to realize what he needs to do to become a better player.  As a basketball enthusiast, I hope and expect him to hold himself accountable for this failure and be motivated by it to put in the focused hard work in the off-season necessary for him to come back as a much improved player, within the team concept and individually.
  • It is only appropriate to finish this post with a congratulatory note to the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, Rick Carlisle and the Dallas coaching staff, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, and the rest of the Dallas Mavericks players and organization on a job well done and winning the 2011 NBA title by playing the game the right way on both ends of the floor; as a team, by making each other better, resulting in a whole that is even greater than the sum of its very good parts. 


    1. "As I predicted with confidence before the Finals, the Dallas Mavericks won this series with their superior team game and shooting ability."

      I've been trying to figure something out for a few months now, and finally decided to just ask you. I've been searching your blog, trying to figure out where exactly you wrote your prediction, which I quoted above. Can you point to it please, so I can read it first hand?


    2. Hi Alex,

      Thank you for reading. No problem. You can find the reasoning behind my finals prediction throughout my first post on the NBA finals, with the actual prediction being in the last paragraph.

      Here is the specific quote, though I was wrong about Game 1, as the Mavericks needed more than a game to figure out the Heat defense and get the open looks they had grown accustomed to throughout the Western Conference Playoffs.

      "...with the Mavericks showing the ability to step up during stretches defensively, particularly in fourth quarters against the Lakers and Thunder, and Marion and Chandler in particular playing inspired defense, I will go out on the limb and take the older, wiser, underdogs in the series with confidence and in Game 1 tonight, where the Mavericks hold an advantage with their team play, ball movement and ability to get uncontested shots."