2011 NBA Playoffs: Even Steven

The 2011 NBA conference finals are even Steven as the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder took home court advantage away from the Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks respectively. The Heat defeated the Bulls 85-75 on Wednesday while the Thunder bested Dallas 106-100 on Thursday. Both teams did it in different ways, but it was their ability to put the ball in the basket when it counted which made the difference.

On Wednesday, the Heat and Bulls played a defensive struggle which harkened back to the days of the 1990’s and New York Knicks “Force Ball.” The Heat were New York’s chief rival during that time. A Bulls team which scored 103 points on Sunday night scored only 75 and shot 39 per cent from the field. It has been said that if the Bulls could keep the score down against the Heat that their chances of winning increase. The Bulls are thought to be the better defensive and rebounding team so a low scoring game falls in their favor. In theory this may be true. But in reality even if the Bulls play great defense they still have to score in order to beat the Heat. Because the Heat have two men who can close out close games in forward Lebron James and guard Dwayne Wade. On Wednesday it was James.

James finished the night with 29 points. Wade added 24. With the score tied at 73 in the final minutes of a game which looked like it would end in the Bulls favor James scored nine of the Heat’s last 12 points. It was enough to give the Heat the win and even the series.

What did the Heat do right and the Bulls wrong in game two? The Heat did not play much better than they did in game one. The Bulls just did not shoot nearly as well as they did in the first game. They got second shot opportunities, but did not convert. The Bulls took 14 more shots than the Heat, but could not take advantage of it. This allowed Miami to hang around long enough for James to take over and get the victory at the end. Now it’s off to Miami even at 1-1.

As for Oklahoma City, well they did just the opposite of the Heat. They put the pressure on Miami offensively. This game was a complete reversal of Tuesday night’s as the Oklahoma City bench which was outscored 53-22 in game one turned the tables by outscoring Dallas’ bench 50-29 on Thursday. James Harden led the way for the Thunder scoring 23 points with ten of them coming in the fourth quarter. Durant led all OKC scorers with 24 points.

In the fourth quarter Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki scored 16 of his game high 28 points just as Durant had scored much of his points in the fourth quarter of game one. But like the Mavericks on Tuesday, the Thunder shot 65 per cent from the field in the fourth quarter and it was enough to get them the victory. Thunder head coach Scott Brooks took a chance in the fourth quarter and benched starting point guard Russell Westbrook and forward Kendrick Perkins for the entire period. Eric Maynor, Dequean Cook, Nick Collison, Harden and Durant played almost the entire quarter for Oklaoma City.

Now the Thunder and Mavericks head to Oklahoma City even Steven at 1-1.

Both visitng teams made slight adjustments in winning their games. The Heat played a little better defensively and the Thunder did a little better job of stopping Nowitzki. Now it’s time for Chicago and Dallas to adjust.

The Mavericks have to continue to score offensively, but they have to slow down the Thunder defensively. Oklahoma City has scored 112 and 106 points respectively against the Mavericks. The Thunder is shooting 41 per cent from behind the three point arc. If Dallas, which had not allowed a 100 point game in the playoffs before this series, is to win than they will have to find a way to either match the Thunder offensively or slow them down. It is obvious that both benches will be a factor, but one would suspect that they will cancel each other out. So it will come down eventually to Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki.

As it should.

The Heat did not solve the problem of keeping the Bulls off of the boards. But a change of scenary should do them some good. James and Wade will shoot better at home. The team has four days to make the necessary adjustments as game three will not be until Sunday. Miami still has to figure out a way to score points, because the Bulls still have the deeper bench and longer more athletic team. But the Heat still have two true scorers in James and Wade to the Bulls one in Derrick Rose. And that’s what this series is going to come down to. Whether the Heat let Rose dictate the pace by getting to the rim and scoring in the half court. Or whether the Heat can get some defensvie rebounds and score transition buckets of their own. The more that the the Heat can make it a transition game, the better their chances.

Right now, we are where we hoped to be after two games.

Even Steven.