Saturday, June 10, 2006

game 2 strategy

Because of the NBA Finals' 2-3-2 format, Game 2 is a must for the Miami Heat
Steve Kerr - Yahoo Sports, June 10, 2006

If they fall down 2-0 to the Dallas Mavericks, they would realistically have to win all three home games in Miami to put themselves in good position to win the series. Only Detroit in 2004 has won all three middle games at home since this format was adopted. It's a difficult task, particularly when you have to win all three.

I've always felt the team with home-court advantage has one thought going into the Finals: Somehow get to Game 6 with a 3-2 lead, and then take your chances with two cracks at the title in your own gym. The Mavericks would be in great shape to be in that position by winning Game 2.

Breaking down Sunday's game is a matter of perspective. If you're a Dallas fan and a "glass is half full" type, you're ecstatic. Your team is up 1-0 despite the fact that your best players – Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard – combined for just 26 points on 7-for-28 shooting. Each struggled with his shot, perhaps because of some Finals jitters or maybe because Miami's defense was strong. Regardless, it is difficult to see those two coming up empty again in Game 2, and if they break out, Dallas could really be in business.

On the other hand, if your glass is half empty, you might be a little worried. Howard's shot was off all night, and you wonder if he'll get it back any time soon. He's not a natural shooter – more of a "made" one – and his rut might last a while. Howard needs to get to the rim and create some easy looks for himself, but every time he tried to do that in Game 1, Shaquille O'Neal was there to alter the shot.

Nowitzki drained a couple of big threes in the second half but otherwise wasn't himself. Did Udonis Haslem do that good of a job on him, or did Dirk just settle for jumpers? Was Nowitzki reluctant to attack the rim because of O'Neal's presence? If Haslem and O'Neal can continue to bother Dirk into poor shooting nights, and Howard remains off the mark, the Mavericks could be in some trouble.

From Miami's point of view, Sunday's game is about getting contributions from its peripheral players. The Heat reserves scored just two points in Game 1 and were thoroughly outplayed by their Dallas counterparts. Antoine Walker made just three of nine three-pointers and Gary Payton missed all three of his attempts as Miami shot 5-of-20 overall from beyond the arc. With O'Neal facing plenty of double teams, the Heat have to make open shots from long range in order to win.

On the bright side for Miami, its defense was solid. The Heat held Dallas to just 44-percent shooting and 90 points – 12 under their playoff average. Obviously, they'll need to do a better job on Jason Terry, but there was a reason he was open all night in the opener.

Miami rotated help onto Nowitzki all night, and Terry was free to roam to open areas. The Heat didn't count on him going 13-for-18 from the field, particularly since he has struggled with his shot for much of the playoffs. But he's a clutch shooter, unafraid of the big moment, and if he's hot it puts Miami into a quandary. To help on Dirk or not to help? That is the question.

That said, Game 2 is a critical one for the Heat. A loss would put them in a 2-0 bind, but a victory gives them huge momentum going into Tuesday's Game 3 in Miami. The series very well may hinge on the outcome Sunday.


Game 2 should bring out the best in strategizing
By John Hollinger - ESPN Insider

The first game of any playoff series tends to be pure vanilla, with teams trotting out their basic alignments and spending much of the game feeling each other out. That was certainly the case Thursday. Sure, there were a few wrinkles -- such as Miami's use of a zone for stretches -- but, by and large, Game 1 held little intrigue in terms of strategy.

Fear not, however, for things will change soon. With two off days in which to dissect more film and plot new strategies, both coaches could come back with much different strategies that shift the tide of the series on Sunday.

Certainly, that's been the case for Dallas throughout the postseason. The Mavericks lost the opening game in each of their past two series, only to come back in Game 2 with revamped lineups that ultimately led them to victory. Against San Antonio, it was Avery Johnson's daring switch to Devin Harris in the backcourt that helped the Mavs outpace and ultimately vanquish the defending champion Spurs. In the Phoenix series, Johnson inserted DeSagana Diop after he took a DNP in the opener, and he proved to be a defensive difference maker the rest of the series.

However, our eyes should be equally focused on Pat Riley. In general, it's the losing coach who has the most incentive to upset the apple cart, because he's the one whose Plan A didn't work. If that's the case here, the Heat coach should have several changes to introduce when he tries to even the series on Sunday. While Riley's team isn't as deep or flexible as Johnson's, giving him fewer options in this area, he still has several options to choose from.

Here's the fun part: trying to figure out what adjustments each side will make heading into Game 2. While any number of arrangements are possible, a few can safely be eliminated. For instance, I doubt Michael Doleac will replace Jason Williams at point guard, and I can pretty much rule out Dallas' using Darrell Armstrong to guard Shaq.

Beyond the ridiculous, however, everything is on the table. Based on what happened in the opener, here are some of the shifts in strategy you're most likely to see in Game 2:

More Miami moves to the basket. Here's one of the untold stories from Game 1: All the attention on Miami's inaccuracy at the free-throw line caused us to lose sight of how rarely the Heat got there at all. Miami took only 19 free throws, and only two players earned free-throw tries.

The Heat averaged .41 free throws per field-goal attempt coming into the Finals, but had only .24 in Game 1. Based on their playoff rate, a more normal free-throw total for them would be about 30, and the disparity was a major reason Miami mustered just 49 points in the final three quarters.

The most egregious offender in this area was Antoine Walker, who reverted to his tendency to throw up slop rather than going hard to the rim. As a result he didn't have a single free-throw attempt despite taking 19 shots, nine of which were 3-pointers, and he committed six turnovers. Miami's other big offensive weapon, Williams, didn't have a free throw either. As a result, look for the Heat's secondary players to be more assertive about going to the rim rather than settling for jumpers in Game 2.

More touches for Shaq. OK, this one isn't rocket science. Based on their comments afterward, the Heat players knew one problem with their Game 1 approach without even looking at any film.

"We know we have to get the ball down to Shaq more," said Dwyane Wade. "We have to make sure we get the ball to Shaq a little more," said Walker. "Eleven attempts isn't enough for him." "We've got to get him more touches," said Gary Payton.

"We've just got to keep doing what we've been doing, inside-out," added the Big Fella -- actually, he said that twice in five minutes during his postgame interview.

Shaq's 11 field-goal attempts were his fewest since a 10-shot effort in Game 5 against the Nets in the second round, and on that night he played only 25 minutes due to foul trouble. On a per-minute basis, it was his lowest shot output of the playoffs.

The Mavs would like to think they had something to do with it. Centers Erick Dampier and Diop mostly prevented Shaq from getting the easy alley-oop dunks and putbacks that normally pad his total, and Dallas' double-teams put the pressure on Miami's secondary players to beat them.

But it's not like Shaq has never seen a double-team before. Miami has some simple remedies for getting O'Neal more involved. For starters, it could put in a play or two to get him an easy look before the double arrives. The Heat also need to work on reposting Shaq after the initial kick out -- that's often when he's at his most dangerous.

But most of all, the Heat just need to remember that he's on the floor. After a concerted effort to get him the rock early on, the Heat seemed to forget about Shaq after halftime, and their offense withered as a result.

Less Gary Payton in crunch time. One thing that Pat Riley is probably trying to get his head around today is the fact that he's no longer playing the Pistons. Against this Dallas team, 80 points simply isn't going to cut the mustard, so having a player like Payton play 18 minutes and take home a bagel is a major liability.

That's especially true considering his opposite number. Jason Terry can score in bunches, as he showed amply in Game 1, but defense has never been his calling card. Jason Williams can take advantage of that, and to an extent he did on Thursday, scoring 12 points. But Terry gets a free ride when Payton is on the floor.

However, down the stretch Riley went with Payton ahead of Williams. Williams checked out with 7:54 left and didn't return until two minutes remained and the Heat were in desperation mode. That's been Riley's usage pattern for the two players throughout the postseason -- normally James Posey and Payton have finished games despite not starting them. In light of his team's need for more offense, he'll have to reconsider that strategy.

Riley also has a few options on his bench that he might utilize. Miami's bench scored only two points in 47 minutes in Game 1 and threw in one measly assist, a scandalously lame effort that should have Riley scrambling for more firepower. If so, Derek Anderson could be a candidate for more playing time on Sunday, probably at the expense of Payton.

More pick-and-pop plays for Dirk. Remember, Dallas has to adjust too. The Mavs know how lucky they were to win Game 1, or at least they ought to know. Miami had two more field goals and five more offensive rebounds than Dallas, but lost by 10 because of its implosion at the line.

The biggest concern for Dallas is Nowitzki's poor night against Udonis Haslem. This was supposed to be a huge mismatch, but Haslem did a great job of pushing Nowitzki away from the basket and using his 6-9 frame to contest the 7-footer's jumpers. For the game, he shot an un-Dirk-like 4-for-14 and took a modest six free throws.

Nobody thinks Dallas will win Game 2 without more production from Dirk, but to get it the Mavs may need to change a few things up offensively. The post-ups at the foul line that were so effective against smaller defenders such as Bruce Bowen and Shawn Marion aren't as much of a weapon against the taller Haslem, so they need to rethink how to get shots for Dirk.

One option is to revert to the Steve Nash days and involve Nowitski and Terry in a myriad of pick-and-pop plays. Miami's pick-and-roll defense certainly is suspect, as evidenced by Terry's Game 1 explosion, and Haslem doesn't have the speed to help out on Terry and still race back to the 3-point line to guard Nowitzki. Even if Haslem can make the rotation, it exposes him to the shot-fake-and-drive tactic that Dirk has employed with much greater frequency in recent years.

More of Devin Harris. As expected, Dallas changed its starting lineup for this series by replacing Devin Harris with Adrian Griffin. Griffin did a good job, too, scoring eight points in 13 minutes, while Harris scored only one point in 18 minutes.

Despite that, I have a feeling we'll see more of Harris in Game 2. One reason Griffin started was that the Mavs were leery of having the smaller Harris defend Wade. What we learned in Game 1, however, was that Wade's quickness against Griffin and Josh Howard was a greater concern than his height advantage on Harris.

Wade scored 28 points, but none of them came in the seven minutes when Harris guarded him in a two-guard alignment with Terry. Of the five Dallas defenders to play Wade -- Griffin, Howard, Harris, Marquis Daniels and Jerry Stackhouse -- Harris was the most effective, primarily because he's the only one whose lateral movement comes close to matching Wade's.

Additionally, the Terry-Harris backcourt allows the Mavericks to push the pace, something they'll need to do after playing the Heat's game in the opener. This was how the Mavs ran San Antonio ragged in the second round, but it was thought the matchup with Wade would prevent them from doing it to Miami. Based on Game 1, we need to reconsider that theory.

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