Friday, June 3, 2011

Heat blow Game 2, can they recover?

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Up 15 points with seven-plus minutes to play after a Dwyane Wade three-pointer, the Miami Heat looked well on their way to a 2-0 series lead and being a near-lock for the 2011 NBA title. My friend who was watching the game with me even went as far as to say, "This game is over" and many other people posted Facebook statuses proclaiming Miami champions of the world.

That last part may be a bit sarcastic, but as instantly as those statuses hit the Internet the Heat cooled down in a major way. Dallas went on an 8-0 run as Miami didn't score for three minutes, finally getting points on a pair of LeBron James free throws.

The Mavericks continued to clamp down on defense, forcing the Heat into bad offensive possessions with little ball movement and making them settle for deep jump shots as the shot clock ran down. A Jason Terry steal with a minute left led to a three-on-one fast break that ended with Dirk Nowitzki finishing over Chris Bosh to tie the game at 90.

The rest is history, as Nowitzki used a beautiful Tyson Chandler screen to make a wide-open three with 26 seconds left. But a defensive breakdown off of the ensuing inbounds pass left Mario Chalmers wide open to tie the game, which he did.

Nowitzki once again beat Bosh at the basket on the final possession and Dwyane Wade's desperation three-pointer at the buzzer hit back iron. With a 22-5 run in the final 7:13, the Mavericks kept their championship hopes alive. And by taking their foot off the gas pedal too soon, the Heat let a golden opportunity slip past them.

Some of you may be thinking that Dallas went up 2-0 at home on Miami in 2006 and lost the next four games, so it's crazy for me to say a 2-0 lead was impossible to overcome. I just didn't think Dallas could beat Miami three times in a row, even on their home court. Now they don't have to.

That's a huge boon to a team that relies on its bench for so much. I'm a firm believer that role players play better at home and Jose Juan Barea is a perfect example of that. If you don't believe me, check out the stats from his last four road playoff games and his last four home playoff games. It's a telling story, especially if you've watched him struggle in the first two games of this series.

Peja Stojakovic, another key bench player, didn't score a point in the two games in Miami. If Dallas can win on the road in impressive, comeback fashion with just their top five players playing well, are they really going to drop two out of three at home when they get their bench and their crowd going?

Miami is lucky the NBA Finals format is 2-3-2 rather than 2-2-1-1-1. If Dallas was going home for just two games, this series could easily be 3-1 heading back to South Beach. It's just difficult to convince me that any NBA team can beat James and Wade three straight times, home court or not.

Everything you heard before the series started and after Game 1 was about Miami and their new-found ability to close out games. But nobody was talking about Dallas' ability to do the same; they were the only other team in this year's playoffs to consistently close out opponents and take advantage when other teams didn't finish against them.

Yes, the Heat blew last night's game in epic fashion, but the Mavericks saw an opportunity present itself and took control on both ends of the court. Teams like Oklahoma City and Chicago didn't, because they aren't championship-caliber yet. Dallas is, and many people overlooked that fact heading into the series.

I heard many people saying the Heat were going to win this series in five games or even sweep Dallas, which proves that people were getting way too caught up in the Heatles hysteria. Miami is a great team that has beaten a bunch of really good teams so far, just like Dallas. Now, the only two great teams in this year's playoffs have a battle on their hands.

I didn't expect Dallas to steal a game in Miami and now that they have, the Heat will probably need seven games to close out the Mavericks unless they find a way to steal two in Dallas. I think the momentum from Game 2 will carry over enough for the Mavericks to take Game 3, but the Heat should bounce back in one of the following two games.

That means this series will go back to Miami 3-2 in favor of Mark Cuban's Mavs and I think whoever wins Game 6 will take the title. Which makes my revised prediction: Heat in 7 (Honorable Mention: Mavericks in 6).

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