This was a close, slowly paced, offensively efficient game between two teams until the final minutes. One team decided to stop playing the way it had played all game, and for once, it wasn't the Miami Heat.
Los Angeles abandoned its offense late, flattening out to a 1-4 attack featuring Kobe Bryant(notes), and as a result the Heat was able to pull away. Miami outscored the Lakers by eight in the final period, with Kobe Bryant needing six shots to score six points utilizing questionable shot selection, along with two turnovers.
Dwyane Wade(notes) was Miami's catalyst. His defense on Bryant in the early going left a little to be desired, but no defender was going to be able to stop Kobe as he made quick decisions in the Laker offense on his way toward 12 first-quarter points. But Wade kept the dribble attack up, and LeBron James(notes) finished with 19 points, nine assists, eight rebounds, and some clinching free throws down the stretch.
Miami won because it essentially ran the same sets it used in the first quarter late in this contest. The problem for Los Angeles is that, for whatever reason, they have had a hard time defending those sets this year. The problem for Miami is that no other championship contending team has had the same issue. So while the Lakers are to be criticized for abandoning their offense late, Miami is still going to walk the fine line should they continue to run the same isolation-heavy sets that have gotten them in trouble all year. The same ones that put the Lakers behind the eight ball in the fourth quarter of this contest.
As you've no doubt read, Kobe Bryant took part in a showy postgame practice session in American Airlines Arena, tossing up jumper after jumper as he took the pain of a close loss to heart. Nice sentiment, but Kobe didn't exactly have to do this in front of the assembled media. There is regulation sized and accessible practice court at the arena that Kobe knows full well about, though it wouldn't provide him the opportunity to take practice shots in front of dozens of reporters flashing cell phone cameras.
More importantly? Missed jumpers aren't the problem. Shot selection, and overall decision-making. That's the issue. The Lakers lost this game because they eschewed ball movement, the triangle offense, or even the same lame-o screen and rolls that the Miami Heat used to win (and lose all those other close games). Perfecting that jumper isn't the answer.
This was not the breakthrough we were hoping for. Miami still goes about things the same way, and Kobe still doesn't trust his team's offense (the same offense resulted in him getting shot after shot in the first quarter) late in games.
The Nuggets' defense funneled the rock to the wrong 3-point shooters (Grant Hill(notes), Mickael Pietrus(notes)), Steve Nash(notes) actually looked his age while struggling through a groin pull, and the Suns dug too deep a hole in the first half with 14 turnovers. Nash had six turnovers and just seven assists, taking only four shots, and the Suns barely moved past 93 points per 100 possessions. Not good.
Denver eventually had its own turnover difficulties, but overall it pushed when necessary, moved the ball, and lived off of Ty Lawson's(notes) exuberance and determined play. Twenty-two points and 11 assists for Lawson, and as the box score reflects (yay!) Nene was absolutely everywhere.
Twenty-two points as well, with seven rebounds and three steals in only 26 minutes of work for the Nuggets big man. Also, J.R. Smith(notes) had a tough go of things early on, but didn't let things get to him.
Of course the Knicks can't defend anything. That's a real issue, as the team worms its way toward spring. But the real killer, as much as we'd like to read the tea leaves, is the creaky team that was playing its seventh game in 10 nights. A batch of excuse-making? Sure. Could the Knicks have played through it? Probably. Did this have to be a blowout? Nope. But it had a huge affect.
Dallas came out full of fire, moving the ball and attacking the myriad gaps that these Knicks will allow, and came through with an impressive victory. It's not as simple as saying that a daisy-fresh Knicks team would have only lost by 10 instead of 18. No, because fatigue doesn't just slow your roll, it affects your willingness to compete. We have no way of knowing how this game would have been under different circumstances -- because I don't want to pretend like the Knicks would have escaped a blowout with a pair of good legs.
And with the Mavericks playing this way against New York's bad legs, the Knicks were dead in the water. Over 132 points per 100 possessions for a determined Dallas squad that was white hot from all over the field, dominated the glass, and only turned the ball over 11 times. A dominant performance from a true championship contender.