It may not have been pretty, but it sure was effective.
Spurred by a frenzied defensive effort, the Miami Heat forced the Dallas Mavericks into a physical low-scoring slugfest, a type of game Dallas is not too familiar with.
It is often said that styles make fights.
With two teams that couldn’t be more dissimilar, it became clear that the side that could control the tempo and style of play was going to be in an advantageous position.
Dallas got a taste of what it is like to play an Eastern Conference playoff game.
The defense was tighter, the fouls were harder and open looks rarer.
Miami was again able to outrebound a taller opponent, winning the battle of the boards by 10, 46-36.
For casual fans, the game was hardly ideal with defense being the theme of the night and neither team shooting better than 40 percent.
Yesterday I mentioned that while Dallas would be the best offensive team Miami had faced, the Mavericks hadn't experienced a defense as suffocating as the Heat’s.
That was evident last night.
In past rounds, whenever opponents double-teamed Dirk Nowitzki, it resulted in wide-open looks for other Mavericks players.
Not against the Heat.
Miami was able to smother Nowitzki whenever he caught the ball in a dangerous position, and then, thanks to sheer athleticism the wing players were able to close out on Dallas’ shooters so ridiculously quickly that the open looks became contested jump shots in just a matter of milliseconds.
As was the case in ’06, Udonis Haslem played a vital role defensively, never leaving Nowitzki’s side.
Along with Joel Anthony, Haslem played Nowitzki about as well as you could hope to.
Yes, he still scored 28 points, but on 7-of-19 shooting.
It was his third-lowest shooting percentage (39 percent) of these playoffs.
Similarly, thanks in large part to Anthony’s lateral quickness, Miami did what no other team has been able to do: keep JJ Barea out of the paint.
Barea was a nonfactor in Game One, scoring just two points in 18 minutes on 1-for-8 shooting.
You also have to give Erik Spoelstra credit for another defensive wrinkle: putting 6-foot-8 LeBron James on 6-foot-1 Jason Terry.
Terry is often the Mavericks’ second best player, but by putting James on him, Miami effectively took him out of the game in the second half.
“Whatever it takes for our team, if I need to be on Terry, if I need to be on anyone on their team, I just try to take the challenge,” James said in the postgame press conference.
PROMISING SIGNS FROM WADE
On the other end, James put in the type of performance that we’ve come to expect from him: An efficient 24 points (9-for-16 shooting), along with nine rebounds and five assists.
Somehow James is still able to play 45 minutes and not look any worse for wear. He’s a different class of athlete.
His jump shot has also been more accurate than ever before. James is shooting a career-best 40 percent from three-point range in these playoffs.
Going into the game, there were concerns about Dwyane Wade. What Wade would show up?
Game One has to be a positive sign for Heat fans.
Early on in the first half, we saw the same hesitance from Wade that has characterized his play recently.
Again he was passing up opportunities he usually doesn’t think twice about taking.
There still seems to be less than complete confidence in his jump shot.
But in the second half he came alive.
Wade was all over the court: attacking the rim, blocking shots and grabbing rebounds.
He again came through in the fourth quarter, leading the Heat with seven points and three assists.
“Obviously I made some shots tonight,” Wade told the media in the postgame press conference. “But we all made plays down the stretch to win the ball game.”
Should he continue to play at this level, it’s hard to see the Heat losing this series.
Looking ahead to the rest of the series, it’s hard to imagine both teams shooting below 40 percent in too many more games.
Obviously, both teams will make adjustments, the Mavericks more so.
What it may come down to is the Mavericks going smaller and playing more shooters, in the hope of making Miami pay for double-teaming Nowtizki.
Or it could be as simple as creating better opportunities for Nowitzki by having him come off screens to give him more space and time before help arrives.
Then again, there are only so many adjustments you can make to combat a defense as dominant as Miami’s.
On the Heat’s end, you have to wonder how much longer Spoelstra will persevere with Mike Bibby in the starting lineup.
Bibby missed four wide-open three-point shots and considering he’s only shooting an abysmal 22 percent from that distance in the playoffs, time could be wearing thin.
Beyond that, it’s hard to see Miami tinkering too much with what has been an almost flawless game plan to this point.
The onus will be on maintaining the effort.
And with Miami now only being three wins away from the Larry O’Brien trophy, effort should hardly be an issue.