Deep in the heart

Deep in the heart
By Steve Kerr, Yahoo Sports
June 11, 2006

Steve Kerr
Yahoo Sports
Steve Kerr: Video Mavs' bench is the key

For the second straight game, the Dallas Mavericks used a late first-half run to seize momentum and race past the Miami Heat. And for the second straight game, Jerry Stackhouse was in the middle of the action.

In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Stackhouse's hard drive to the hoop led to Shaquille O'Neal's second foul – and a bloody nose for Stackhouse. In Shaq's absence, the Mavericks scored eight quick points to close out the second quarter in a 90-80 victory.

In Game 2 on Sunday, Stackhouse hit three consecutive three-pointers – one of which became a four-point play after he was fouled – that led to an 11-0 streak. What had been a five-point lead for Dallas suddenly became a 50-34 advantage at the break, and the game was never in doubt again in a 99-85 Mavericks victory.

Stackhouse's contributions so far in the series have epitomized the major advantage Dallas has over Miami – bench strength. In fact, the Mavericks' deep, versatile roster was the difference in their earlier playoff wins over San Antonio and Phoenix.

The Mavs simply wear teams out with size, speed, strength and shooting. Whatever needs to be done, the bench takes care of it.

Need a big man to help out on Shaq? There's Erick Dampier subbing in for DeSagana Diop and providing six points, 13 rebounds and tough defense on Shaq. The Diop/Dampier tag team was so good, in fact, that – combined with aggressive double teaming by Dirk Nowitzki – Dallas held O'Neal to an unheard of five points. (No, that is not a misprint).

Need speed? Enter Devin Harris, who provided relief for Jason Terry and used his lightning quickness to penetrate the lane and give the Mavericks 11 points and four assists. What about scoring? There's Stackhouse, making four three-pointers and pouring in 19 points. And when Avery Johnson wants to go small when O'Neal is out of the game, he puts in Keith Van Horn at center to stretch defenses with his perimeter shooting and open up driving lanes for his teammates. Van Horn made two of three shots in limited minutes but gave the Heat's defense a different look.

The Dallas bench outscored Miami's 41-20, which followed Game 1's 24-2 advantage. But perhaps even more importantly, the Mavericks' reserves substituted foul-prone starters Josh Howard and Diop, and the Mavs didn't skip a beat.

Dallas' defense was active and aggressive, holding the Heat to 41-percent shooting and out rebounding the Heat by 14. It was a total team effort by the NBA's deepest club, and the Heat will limp back to Miami hoping to find a way back into the series. But in order to do so, they have to slow down not just two or three Mavs – they need to stop 12 of them.

ADJUSTMENT OF THE GAME

Avery Johnson decided to double team O'Neal with Nowitzki rather than send a guard like Terry or Adrian Griffin, and the maneuver could not have worked better. Nowitzki is 7-foot, so the size he brought on the double teams made it difficult for Shaq to find open cutters. With Diop and Dampier bodying O'Neal, and Nowitzki aggressively double teaming, Shaq never could get going. He attempted only five shots, scored five points and simply tried to find open shooters. Dallas is so quick though that it was able to recover to shooters and bother them. One of the things double teaming does is that it quickens the game by activating weak-side defenders. With guys like Howard, Terry, Harris and Stackhouse, the Mavericks have the length and speed to scramble to shooters, and when Miami missed, they were off to the races.

DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE GAME

Dwyane Wade – Sure, O'Neal's performance was disappointing. But if Dallas is going to commit a double team to Shaq all game, Wade has to come through with a big effort, as he has done time and again. But in Game 2, Wade looked out of sorts, missing 13 of 19 shots, passing for only three assists and making four turnovers. Wade has to dominate the paint with penetration because then the Mavs' defense is compromised and O'Neal can get lobs and offensive rebounds for his points. But if Wade is contained – as he was Sunday – then everything for Shaq comes in the half court, and he's not good enough anymore to just dominate on his own.

STATISTIC OF THE GAME

26 and 16 – Those were Dirk Nowitzki's numbers – possibly the quietest 26 points and 16 boards you'll ever see. But it was an extremely efficient night for Dirk, who struggled in Game 1 and made only four of 14 shots. As has been the case with Nowitzki in the playoffs, he bounced back from a poor performance by taking the ball to the basket. Dallas' first two plays were designed to get him the ball on the block and attack, rather than settle for jumpers. That set the tone as Nowitzki went to the line 11 times – making 10 – and nailed eight of 16 shots from the field, with only two three-point attempts. It was another example of the new and improved Nowitzki, who used his size to attack the rim and impose his will on the game.

Steve Kerr is Yahoo! Sports' NBA analyst. Send Steve a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Monday, Jun 12, 2006 2:29 am, EDT

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