The series is tied, and teams are 11-0 when winning the third game of a 2-3-2 series tied 1-1. The Heat have looked unstoppable and then collapsed. The Mavericks have looked overwhelmed and then charged back to victory. Anyone who thought this series was going to be quick or easy has had a lesson in the realities of just how good these two teams are. This thing is more than likely going the distance, but whoever wins Game 3 will have a huge leg up in the series.
With that in mind, here are five things to watch for in the NBA Finals’ Game 3.
1. Inside Men
LeBron James admitted Saturday that he needs to attack more. He and Wade went into hero mode early in the fourth quarter and the result was a stalled offense for the Heat that allowed the comeback. Wade’s one drive inside five minutes did net points off of free throws. James has to be more aggressive. He made a lot of noise Saturday about how Shawn Marion can’t guard him one-on-one. James needs to prove that to be the case in Game 3 by staying aggressive. Then again, you could replace Marion with just about any defender in the league and you have the same situation that always exists with LeBron. Needing to be aggressive. Too often being passive.
2. A Swift Kick in the Glass
Whichever team won the offensive rebounding battle in this series has taken the game. Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler came out much more active on the glass in Game 2 and it paid off. The Heat need those extra possessions. In particular, Joel Anthony needs to make his presence felt. Anthony is known as the “no-stats All-Star” on the Heat, but he needs to actually fill up the box score with rebounds on both ends. Udonis Haslem has too many responsibilities and James and Wade have too much attention on them. Anthony needs to contribute with effort and know-how.
3. Whoa, Boy
Take out the fourth quarter of the Mavericks and you have a disappointing loss on the backs of a game filled with missed opportunities. The Mavericks had an ungodly amount of turnovers in Game 2 and it very nearly cost them. As much as offensive rebounding was the correction Rick Carlisle talked about before Game 2, turnovers are his sticking point before Game 3. The Mavericks were able to pull a rabbit out of a hat and get away with it in Game 2, but that won’t happen again. They have to cut down on mental mistakes and make smarter passes. As the series goes along, both teams are starting to attack the dribble and passing lanes more. Whoever can outsmart the opponent’s attack while not forcing things too much will have an advantage that could tip the series. In particular the Mavericks in the fourth quarter started being aggressive on the perimeter in gambling and attacking passing lanes on the drive and kick. The Heat have their own turnover issues to worry about.
4. For the Love of God, Double Dirk
The Heat chose not to double Dirk Nowitzki at the end of Game 2… or did they? Dwyane Wade bailed out his teammate Chris Bosh by saying the Heat “screwed up” their rotations, which means that someone was supposed to come help. Dirk Nowitzki even said he was surprised to find himself open when he spun around Chris Bosh like he was standing still (as he was standing still). If the situation repeats itself, Udonis Haslem told reporters he didn’t know if they would necessarily double Dirk. If that actually happens again and we have a repeat of Game 2, I’m going to write up a pink slip for Erik Spoelstra just in case Pat Riley needs it, despite the fact that Spoelstra’s done a remarkable job in the postseason. They have to double Dirk Nowitzki and live with the consequences.
5. The Totally Reliable Unreliable 3-point Shooters
Jason Kidd and Mario Chalmers all of a sudden are having a shooting contest. Who saw that happening? We keep waiting to see when Kidd’s 3-point attack is going to stall, but he really has worked to add that part to his game and he’s making defenses pay when they, as above, double Dirk. Mario Chalmers has been the Heat’s zone buster. And had the Heat managed to survive Game 2 in overtime, he would have been a hero for his clutch 3-pointer. All of a sudden this series has become about which set of unreliable shooters gets hot. A key thing to watch will be if one team is cold and gets in a deficit if they keep going for the 3-pointer in the hopes of the home-run ball. The Mavericks did that for three quarters in Game 2 and it almost cost them. The Heat did that for the majority of the fourth quarter and it did cost them. Whoever can adjust gets the cookie in Game 3.