First, I owe an apology to all the good readers (and Heat fans) for not getting a report on Match 4 posted – I slept through most of the game. So it tips off at noon in New Zealand. What of it?
However, no such mistake was made this time, and today I was at my local sports bar with no intention of missing the festivities.
The first surprise was JJ Barea starting for Dallas in place of DeShawn Stevenson, shifting Jason Terry to Shooting Guard. An interesting move for sure, but one that didn't hurt their ball movement.
What I noticed about Game Four was how formulaic the series was becoming:
Phase 1: Opening. For the first half of the game, both sides played very evenly, with any leads that emerged quickly getting shut down. Dallas had veered slightly from what worked in Game Two, pushing the perimeter a bit harder, and that came at the expense of Miami looking better on the
Phase 2: Breakaway. Come the mid-late third quarter, the Miami Heat intensified their man-on defence, and started to take advantage of Dallas slowing down, resting players etc. Their transition play here was generally very good, and that helped them on a 13-0 run until early in the fourth.
Phase 3: Completion. To end the game, Dallas began rallying. Tyson Chandler stepped up his rebounding game, Jason Terry began to exert himself a bit more, and Dirk Nowitzki became "Mr Clutch" again.
What's defined every individual game in the series is how phases two and three went. Today during phase two, Dallas kept the game very tight, only trailing by four into the fourth. Meanwhile, phase three is all about how strongly they can claw back Miami's lead, or how well Miami can hold it.
During the fourth quarter, the Mavericks made some excellent stops to reclaim the lead, and really should have pulled away but found themselves unable to find that game-sealing basket. However, with about a minute left, Nowitzki brought the game to 84-81 with a clinical layup.
The Heat then surprised everyone by making it 84-83 off a Dwyane Wade drive to the hoop, before Jason Terry made two clutch free throws to stretch the lead back to three. This was actually a clever play, as it gave Miami the chance to pull a stop and take the lead off a second basket, instead of going for the make-or-break three-point shot.
But in the final play, Wade recovered a fumbled inbound pass only for Reggie Miller to miss the buzzer-beating equaliser.
With the series tied at 2-2, Game Five almost becomes the decider. If Dallas win, you'd think they can snatch a win in Miami, but if the Heat win, that places Dallas in all sorts of trouble having to win two very tough games on the road.
- LeBron James was really average tonight, even by standards of his "provider"or "defender" role. He only hit 8 points, complemented by 9 rebounds, 7 assists and turning the ball over 4 times. Watch for him to step up in a big way in Game Five.
- As I said after the first game, the form of Tyson Chandler and Jason Terry is critical. If they're quiet or get into foul trouble, then Nowitzki and Kidd won't be able to carry the team.
- Dirk Nowitzki's been really unlucky these finals. As well as the ligament in his left middle finger, which still looks torn, he had an epic fever today and looked a bit off. Can he fully recover in time... or will something else befall him too?
- The most important part of the game, for me, will be during the Breakaway Phase. Dallas will need to keep the game as close as they can going into the final 10 minutes. Meanwhile, Miami will be wanting to pull as far ahead as they can during then. That could make or break the series.
- I think the Mavs will need to play more like they did during Game Two, focussing more on rebounding. The Heat aren't a stunning shooting side (good, but not Pete Maravich good) so they can afford to concede a few extra buckets from range as long as they work on dominating the boards.
- Speaking of dominating the boards, LeBron needs to start making a few more plays himself. With Wade, Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony already looking good when posting up, a fourth driving option should work wonders.
LeBron James will step up with a triple-double, but a Nowitzki clutch shot will be the difference as the Mavs head back to South Beach with a 3-2 series lead.