Finals Roundtable: Top storylines as series shifts to Dallas for Game 3
After their stunning comeback victory in Game 2 of the Finals, the Mavericks look to maintain their momentum as the series shifts to Dallas for Game 3. SI.com's five NBA writers analyze the top storylines for each team heading into Sunday's matchup (8 p.m. ET, ABC).
Ian Thomsen: It should inspire both sides. Miami is going to try to focus on the initial 42 minutes of Game 2 when it was controlling the play, with the intention of steaming through Dallas for a full 48 this time. The Mavs will be saying they split the games in Miami without playing well (apart from the last six minutes), so imagine what they could accomplish if they can pull their act together. If Game 3 is tight into the final minutes, it's going to become extremely interesting to see which team executes better, because the conclusion of Game 2 created a referendum on Miami's teamwork under pressure.
Sam Amick: The Mavs have momentum. Simple as that. Had the Heat finished what they started in Game 2, they would have headed for Dallas with little reason to fear the American Airlines Center environment that was so unkind to the two-time defending champion Lakers earlier in the playoffs. Now, anything less than winning two of the three games in Dallas puts Miami in an uncomfortable spot. Lose two, and the teams head back to Miami knowing full well that the Mavs have the ability to repeat Game 2 and take the whole thing.
Lee Jenkins: The Heat have been through so much turmoil this season -- beginning with the 9-8 start, the bump in Dallas and the players-only meeting afterward -- that they won't be affected much by Game 2. But the Mavericks, after looking outclassed for the first seven quarters of the Finals, now know they can beat Miami even when not at their best. The confidence boost for them is immense. They believe they can win this series, and if the comeback win had never transpired, I'm not sure they would.
Chris Mannix: Psychologically, none. The Heat have taken too many lumps this season for one game -- even a game with as demoralizing an ending as Game 2 -- to send them into a free-fall. But I do think Dallas learned a thing or two about Miami. That Jason Terry/Dirk Nowitzki pick-and-roll worked well, as did the strategy to blitz Miami's pick-and-rolls. The Mavs' advantage coming off Game 2 is carrying their strategic success over to Game 3.
Zach Lowe: It alters the feel of the series and removes the urgency Dallas would have felt had they been down 0-2. Had the Mavs lost Game 2 by 15 or 20, they would have been justified in wondering whether Miami simply had too much athleticism for them. Those worries are gone, for now. But this is the Finals, and these are mostly veteran players accustomed to postseason pressure. I think we might be exaggerating the carry-over effect a bit.
Thomsen: I wonder if Dallas can control the tempo and create open shots against Miami's athletic defense. I thought the Mavs would be more successful spacing the floor.
Amick: Dirk's play. Take away that fourth quarter, and he hardly had been delivering the sort of transcendent performance that I thought would be needed to truly battle the Heat's trio. He had momentary lapses on both ends of the floor, not only missing shots he usually makes but also losing out on 50-50 rebounds and at times seeming hesitant in how he attacked Miami's overwhelming perimeter defense.
Jenkins: I'm most surprised that Dallas has played so poorly and it's still tied. Jason Kidd had an uncharacteristically sloppy game Thursday. Terry didn't shoot well until the end. The Heat overwhelmed them athletically. But the Mavericks left Miami with exactly what they wanted.
Mannix: Hard to say there's a surprise at this point; neither team has been too consistent with the way it has played. I'd say Miami's success (particularly Udonis Haslem) in pushing Nowitzki off his favored left block is mildly surprising. But to this point, neither team seems to have established much of an identity.
Lowe: Aside from Chris Bosh's poor shooting, I'd say the degree to which the Mavs have managed to both keep Miami off the foul line (at least by the Heat's standards) and out on the perimeter. The Heat took 24 three-pointers in Game 1 and 30 more in Game 2; they attempted at least 24 threes just 11 times in the regular season, and they hit the 30 mark just twice. It's worth noting that Dallas pulled this off in Miami, where we might have expected a few more friendly hometown calls by the refs -- or at least a few more than the one or two the Heat received after Dwyane Wade's tech-worthy temper tantrum in the second quarter. Bottom line: The Mavs' defense, while unspectacular, is doing what it needs to do.
Thomsen: Whether the Mavs can counterpunch against Miami's athleticism and the Heat can execute when it matters. Both teams have turned those questions of weakness into strengths this postseason.
Amick: If I'm Erik Spoelstra, I'm concerned about Rick Carlisle. The Mavs' coach and lead assistant/defensive coordinator Dwane Casey have two games worth of data from which to draw conclusions and make adjustments, and both are highly respected in their ability to do just that. A close second for me -- through Spoelstra's eyes -- is the unforeseen fact that Shawn Marion's offensive production (36 combined points on 15-of-26 shooting) isn't too far off from that of LeBron James (44 combined points on 17-of-31 shooting). If I'm Carlisle, I'm privately wondering if my team can beat the Heat when they don't have a colossal meltdown. As marvelous as the Mavs' comeback was, Miami was clearly looking to kill the clock and sleepwalk its way to the final buzzer.
Jenkins: Carlisle's concern has to be turnovers, which are leading to gimme transition baskets at the other end. Spoelstra's concern has to be perimeter defense. The Mavericks have shot incredibly well from the three-point line at home in the playoffs. The Heat will have to close out on shooters as hard as they did in the first seven quarters of this series.
Mannix: If I'm Carlisle, Brendan Haywood's injury makes me a little unsettled. Haywood hasn't been great but he's an important space-filler and a decent backup to Tyson Chandler, who has been known to get into foul trouble. If Haywood's hip sidelines him, backup Ian Mahinmi might not be ready for a stage like this. Meanwhile, Spoelstra just needs to keep his team from reverting to bad habits. Remember, Spoelstra doesn't mind if LeBron shoots 15 threes a game -- not if those shots come after three or four passes and the ball is moving side to side. It's the over-dribbling, the one-pass sets that Miami ran way too much in November that are the problem. The Heat appeared to have figured things out over the last two months, but they lapsed back into those bad habits in Game 2. Spoelstra needs to keep them away from that kind of play.
Lowe: I don't think much has changed in this regard after two games, except for the addition of Haywood's health to Carlisle's list of worries. Spoelstra still has to be concerned about Miami's tendency to ease off the pedal on offense, while the Mavs' athleticism deficit is an unavoidable headache for the Dallas coach; it forced him to remove Peja Stojakovic from his rotation in the second half of Game 2. Bosh and Nowitzki are both due for big games, and Wade's dominance of Kidd and DeShawn Stevenson in the post surely caught the eye of both coaches.
Thomsen: I think Miami wins Game 3 in response to its collapse, then Dallas takes Game 4, and Game 5 becomes all revealing. We're going to see each team improving over the course of the series.
Amick: The Mavericks, because the last time I was in their arena was Game 4 against the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals, and that incredible display of offensive firepower left an indelible memory. That crowd is electric, and this will be the locals' first chance to get behind their team since the mood of the moment reached this magnitude. All it takes is a couple of early jumpers from Nowitzki and Friends and a few extra ball swings, and the Mavs can get hot -- even against the Heat.
Jenkins: The Heat. They have responded to challenges all season. This is another one. They will bring the same defensive intensity they showed in Game 1.
Mannix: Dallas. The Mavs' bench -- particularly Terry and a struggling J.J. Barea -- will have big nights and the high-energy Heat won't have quite as much without their home crowd behind them.
Lowe: Dallas wins a close one. The Mavs are confident, they're going home and they made some serious headway on both ends in Game 2 when they weren't giving the ball away. They made some subtle adjustments on offense, and their defensive fundamentals should remain steady.
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