Miami’s biggest problem after Game 2? Dallas now believes.

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“Hang in. Hang around. Keep believing.”

Those were the messages that Rick Carlisle was preaching to his Mavericks in the timeout huddle, with his team facing a 15-point deficit with just over seven minutes remaining in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

Apparently, Carlisle’s guys were listening.

Dallas put together a stunning comeback, closing the game on a 22-5 run that ended in a 95-93 victory, which evened the Finals at a game apiece. And the turnaround might not be limited to just this one game, either.

For a large portion of Game 2, it looked as though the Mavericks were simply overmatched. As Dirk Nowitzki struggled to find his shot, going just 6 of 15 from the field for 15 points through the game’s first three quarters, Dwyane Wade was having a monster of a game, and he and LeBron James were turning Mavericks’ mistakes into spectacular, momentum-seizing plays on the other end of the floor.

One of these plays, and the celebration that followed by Wade and James, might have been enough to spark the comeback. As the Heat were rolling in the fourth quarter and leading by 12, James found Mario Chalmers along the baseline, who kicked it to Wade in the corner. Wade drained the three, and honestly, it felt like a game-clinching dagger, even with so much time remaining.

Wade left his shooting hand up for several seconds, and as Dallas called timeout, James and Wade exchanged excited pleasantries on the sideline in front of the Dallas bench.

Since the Mavericks began their amazing comeback immediately after this occurred, it was only natural for a Dallas-based media member to play up this “celebration” in questions to players from both teams in the post-game press conference that was streamed live on NBA.com. Not surprisingly, Wade downplayed the reaction.

“A celebration is confetti, a celebration is champagne bottles,” Wade said. “That wasn’t a celebration. It had nothing to do with the outcome of the game.”

James was equally dismissive, and I couldn’t agree more with the Heat’s two superstars.

Wade had an absolutely ridiculous game. He finished with 36 points, was seen converting fantastic dunks in transition time and again, and this particular three-pointer seemed like, and really should have been, the nail in the coffin for Dallas. He and James felt it too, and their celebration was no more exaggerated than it would have been had it been done by players that people actually like from any other team in the league.

But because it’s the evil Miami Heat, and because Dallas was able to come back and get the win, now all of a sudden it was too much? Stop it.

That one play, and Miami’s reaction to it, wasn’t the reason Dallas found the motivation to come back. This is actually not a big deal for these Mavericks, who now have come back from double-digit deficits on the road in every postgame series this season. This is a veteran team that has proven it doesn’t give up, and doesn’t need to look long and hard at the other team’s “celebration” of a particular play to find its motivation.

What is valid, however, is the way that the Heat were beating Dallas up until that point. Miami has been deadly in transition all season long, and the Mavs kept turning the ball over, especially in the second half, leading to violent dunks from Wade or James that fired up the Heat and their home crowd.

That’s what affected Dallas, not any puffed-up sense of pride over a routine celebration of a big shot, at least by NBA standards. Jason Terry mentioned this specifically in his postage remarks.

“We looked at each guy in the huddle to a man,” Terry said, when asked what sparked the comeback with his team down 15 in the fourth. “Me specifically, I looked at Dirk, and said there’s no way we’re going out like this. There’s too much time left in this game, and for us to go out in a blowout-type fashion with them dunking on us, shooting threes on us, it would have really been disheartening.”

Instead, all the heart belonged to the Mavericks. As Dallas made big shot after big shot, Miami couldn’t get anything going in their halfcourt sets, after scoring easily and at will for most of the game off of their defense in transition. Once Dallas closed the gap late, the Heat could only launch long, contested three-pointers with the shot clock winding down on their last few possessions.

There are more details to the Mavericks’ comeback, of course, including Nowitzki’s fantastic game-winning left-handed layup after driving around Chris Bosh. But after spending the majority of Game 2 looking like they had no chance to win this series, Dallas changed everything before it was through.

Now, the Mavericks believe, and not only for one game as their coach had instructed them to do in that fateful timeout late in Game 2. The team believes it can win the whole thing. And that might be the biggest problem for the Heat as they head to Dallas for the next three games of this series.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue on Kyle Korver’s playing time: Brad Stevens ‘threw us for a loop’ by not playing Semi Ojeleye

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James is obviously the Cavaliers’ best player. Cleveland’s second-best player? Usually Kevin Love, but Kyle Korver has made a case lately.

So, how did Korver play just 19 minutes, including none in the first quarter, in the Cavs’ Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night? That was his playoff low, besides Game 1 against the Pacers, when he was still recovering from injury.

Blame Boston coach Brad Stevens removing Semi Ojeleye from his rotation.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue:

Well, initially, he’s been putting [Semi] Ojeleye in, so that’s been kind of Kyle’s matchup when he comes in the game. He didn’t play him tonight, so it kind of threw us for a loop.

This won’t slow the talk of Stevens being a genius. He neutralized one of Cleveland’s best players simply by not using a limited rookie.

Still, Lue’s strategy held some merit. Korver is a defensive liability, but Ojeleye’s offensive limitations make it hard to take advantage. Ojeleye’s biggest strength, his physical strength, is of limited utility in trying to stick tight to Korver on the perimeter.

In Games 1-4, Cavaliers with Korver on and…

Ojeleye on:

  • Offensive rating: 111.9
  • Defensive rating: 102.1
  • Net rating: +9.9

Ojeleye off:

  • Offensive rating: 97.0
  • Defensive rating: 109.5
  • Net rating: -12.5

That said, Korver is too good to plant on the bench. Other perimeter options – J.R. Smith, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Jeff Green (who actually played fine last night) – are just so unreliable. Lue shouldn’t just wait for the perfect matchup to use Korver.

But will Lue get it, anyway?

Stevens:

We believe in Semi and we think he’s a big, huge part of our team. It would not be a shock if he plays a ton for us in Game 6.

Lue better develop a plan for using Korver in Game 6 Friday, with contingencies based on Stevens using or not using Ojeleye. I wouldn’t trust Stevens’ declaration one bit, and Lue doesn’t want to get thrown for a loop again.

PBT Extra: Rockets showed defense, resilience, can Warriors show same in Game 5?

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Game 4 was an epic game, and the Houston Rockets proved they are a serious threat to knock the Warriors off the top of the mountain. They took Golden State’s big punch to start the game (a 12-0 run) and Stephen Curry haymaker in the third, cranked up their defense, got a great game from Chris Paul, and evened the series at 2-2.

Heading back to Houston, we can expect more of the same out of the Rockets Thursday night — they know a win in Game 5 puts them in a very dominant position in the series.

The question is, do the Warriors have another gear? That’s one of the topics I get into in this PBT Extra. For a few seasons now, the Warriors have been able to play lockdown defense and hit tough shots in the clutch, with Kevin Durant making them especially hard to stop, but in Game 4 when it got tight they looked tired and slow. Houston’s ball pressure threw Golden State off its game, and fatigue had set in for the Warriors. Can they not only go on big runs but slow down Chris Paul, James Harden and the Rockets’ attack?

Thursday night is going to be interesting.

LeBron James recalls six turnovers with striking precision (video)

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James showed off his memory after the Cavaliers’ Game 1 loss to the Celtics, detailing every play of the beginning of the fourth quarter:

He was at it again after Cleveland’s Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night.

Asked about his six turnovers, LeBron perfectly described six turnovers:

The turnover LeBron very noticeably said went off Jeff Green‘s hands was actually assigned to Green. So, that meant LeBron omitted one of his own:

Still, this was incredibly impressive. It was also maybe a little passive-aggressive, the way LeBron notes the ball going off Green’s and J.R. Smith‘s hands.

So, it was quintessential LeBron.

Celtics top Cavaliers in Game 5, setting up Game 7 in Boston?

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LeBron James and a couple Cavaliers teammates left the court well before the Celtics dribbled out their 96-83 Game 5 win Wednesday.

The Cavs are already moving on.

Game 6 will be Friday in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers – down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals – must win to avoid elimination. The way Boston has played on the road, it’s even easy to look ahead to Game 7, which is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.

Still, the Celtics bought themselves leeway with their decisive win in Boston tonight. They led by double digits the final 20 minutes, breaking the Cavs’ momentum after two straight wins in Cleveland.

“It’s tough going on the road, playing against somebody else in their house with their crowd,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks tonight. “So, we were just comfortable. We came back home and defended home-court like we have all playoffs.”

Boston is now 10-0 at home this postseason – but just 1-6 away. Fueled in part by that historic split, no game in this series has been close. All five have been decided by at least nine points, and the average margin of victory – 18 – is in the 97th percentile for largest ever in a 3-2 best-of-seven series.

So, just as two big Celtics wins in Games 1 and 2 didn’t deter the Cavaliers, this one likely won’t, either. The Cavs should be heavily favorited in Game 6.

Beyond, if it gets that far? That’s a much bigger tossup.

Teams up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series have won 85% of the time. But Boston is missing a key reason it secured home-court advantage, including a chance to break the 2-2 at home rather than on the road – Kyrie Irving. And LeBron James is downright scary in a Game 7, even on the road.

The Celtics at least took care of business tonight, showing a far greater sense of urgency than Cleveland. Brad Stevens changed his starting lineup, inserting Aron Baynes for Marcus Morris, and tightened his rotation to just seven players until garbage time. Boston ran the floor much harder than the Cavs, decisively outrebounded them and beat them to loose balls. Even in altercations, the Celtics had a man advantage.

LeBron (26 points, 10 rebounds five assists and six turnovers) never made his presence felt in the way usually necessary for the Cavaliers to win. Cleveland’s four other starters combined to score just 24 points, two fewer than LeBron did himself.

After Boston seized control early, the Cavaliers made few adjustments in strategy or effort – as if they’re saving those for later.