Here I'm turning the commentary over to my Dallas correspondent Craig, longtime friend and basketball aficionado (and big fan of the Mavericks, of course). It doesn't bruise my ego at all to say that his understanding of the game is unquestionably deeper than mine. He makes some good points here...I guess we'll see just how good in a few hours!
The core challenge of the series from a Mavs perspective is related to the simple fact that the Mavs have great offensive players and great defensive players, but not one Mav is great at both. Whereas the Heat’s best offensive players are also their two best defenders. This reality forces the Mavs to have to make difficult decisions about personnel at all times. It is always a compromise of one or the other. I think Carlisle has been masterful at this.
My favorite example, which has been completely misinterpreted by the vast majority of “experts”, is the insertion of Barea into the starting line-up for game 4 (and I presume the rest of the series). This decision had nothing to do with trying to get Barea in earlier and everything to do with managing the minutes of Marion. Carlisle has drawn the logical conclusion that he needs to have one of Stevenson or Marion on the floor at all times and Marion can’t play over 40 minutes consistently (as he had done in Game 3). That simple problem requires that he play the two guys together less minutes. So, if you take Stevenson out of the starting line-up, who do you put in? Only two choices there, Barea or Terry (who also can’t really be on the court at the same time for very long). Terry is clearly better coming off the bench (and you definitely want him in when Dirk is out), so, tada, Barea becomes a starter. Brilliant.
Another funny strategy debate I am hearing from the “experts” is Miami’s lack of use of its “small” line-up. This one cracks me up. In previous series’ Miami has had success with Bosh, Lebron, Miller, Wade, Chalmers/Bibby. So, naturally, folks are suggesting that Spoelstra is being outcoached by Carlisle because he is missing this obvious opportunity. I think Spoelstra is wise not to make this move and here is why: Dallas only has one center with the quickness necessary to contend with Miami, Tyson Chandler and he is playing fantastic, but needs more rest than he has gotten the last two games. Carlisle would absolutely love Miami to go small. I bet Chandler would be off the floor so fast, your head would spin. It is just the move he needs to get him rest. Suddenly, Cardinal could be a viable player for more than a couple of minutes.
The best thing that happens during the third quarter for the Mavs is for the Heat to make a few bail out, late in the shot clock, long baskets out of an isolation play. In all of the last three games, the Heat have gotten away with some poor possessions in the third quarter when either Wade or Lebron have made tough shots after dribbling for several seconds. The result can be very disheartening when the shot goes in after a great defensive possession, but it doesn’t seem to get the Mavs down. More importantly, it encourages Miami to play that way later on, which they seem prone to do anyway.
I didn’t really think Lebron was disengaged down the stretch, but I would have described him as passive. Everyone seems to focus on what he didn’t do on the offensive end, but I thought his bigger drop off was on D. Suddenly Terry looked quick enough and he got by Lebron 3 or 4 times down the stretch. That seems more like tired than disengaged to me.
I think the Mavs found something in the 4th quarter of Game 4, and I believe it may carry them forward successfully. A few more pump fakes as the Miami defenders close out, and guess what, you can go by them and open up their defense. Once you get them having to make quick decisions on the move, some holes show up. Cardinal did that perfectly on one play. All we need is for JKidd to occasionally finish a play and it can all come together.