See, guys? You just need to give J.J. Barea the opportunity to run an offense he feels comfortable with — an offense in which he can scurry around like a Jolt-cola'd-up field mouse, then wind up beneath the basket surrounded by angry gentlemen cutting off seemingly every conceivable shooting angle, and finally scoop up some ludicrous business that gently passes through the net like a soft breeze dancing through the summer heat.
I call 'em "soft breeze" sets, Rick Carlisle. Get more of 'em in the playbook pronto, huh?
After struggling big-time to provide an offensive boost off the Dallas Mavericks bench in the first three games of the NBA Finals, Barea found himself replacing DeShawn Stevenson in the starting lineup for Game 4, one of several tactical switches deployed by Carlisle that wound up paying dividends for the Mavs.
The move also made NBA history, as it made Barea the first native of Puerto Rico ever to start in an NBA Finals game. Carlos Arroyo became the first Puerto Rican to play in the championship round as a member of the 2004-05 Detroit Pistons, making five appearances off the bench in Detroit's seven-game defeat at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. (Butch Lee, the NBA's first Puerto Rican player, won a title with the 1979-80 Los Angeles Lakers, but never saw the court during L.A.'s win over the Philadelphia 76ers.)
While Barea didn't exactly set the world on fire — besides the two nifty layups above, he only made one field goal, finishing with eight points on 3-of-9 shooting in Dallas' series-tying 86-83 victory over the Miami Heat — the move seemed to ignite Stevenson, who contributed 11 points, three 3-pointers, solid perimeter defense and even some heady play to stoke the Mavs' second unit. Even if the switch-up didn't get Barea totally on-track, it did have a positive influence on Dallas' ability to match up with the Heat, both offensively and defensively.
Plus, paired with an often-erratic Jason Kidd (just three assists and four turnovers on the night), Barea took much better care of the ball, inverting his unsightly 1-to-4 assist-to-turnover ratio from Game 4 to drop four dimes against just one giveaway in nearly 22 minutes. And as evidenced above, Barea was able to enter the paint and create opportunities to wreak havoc on Tuesday night after spending too much time outside in the past two games.
Six of Barea's nine field-goal attempts in Game 4 came within nine feet of the basket, according to Hoopdata, compared with just three of eight from that distance in Game 3 and three of seven in Game 2. As Rob Mahoney noted at The Two Man Game, that in and of itself should be heartening for Dallas fans:
... though Barea hadn't really played well in the first three games of the Finals, he was able to accomplish some good things in Game 4 — even as he shot just 3-of-9 from the field. If Carlisle was given the option for Barea to get the same looks and same penetration again in Game 5, I think he'd take it in a heartbeat; Barea worked to create quality shots, but makes just weren't in the cards this time.
And if they don't look to be in the cards in Game 5, either, Carlisle should rip open the wrapper on a deck of more "soft breeze" sets. You're welcome, Dallas. (I'd like my assistant-coach championship ring to be platinum and include a lock of Dirk Nowitzki's hair, thanks.)
- Rick Carlisle