Updated: June 9, 2006, 7:03 PM ET

Dirk stumbles, but Heat fumble

DALLAS -- They had the start they wanted. They had the tempo they wanted. They even had an all-night look at the Dirk Nowitzki they dreamed of.

The Miami Heat had lots of what they wished for Thursday night in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Finals Schedule

Best-of-Seven
Mavs lead Heat, 1-0

Sunday, June 11
ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks

Tuesday, June 13
ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Dallas Mavericks at Miami Heat

Thursday, June 15
ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Dallas Mavericks at Miami Heat

Sunday, June 18*
ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Dallas Mavericks at Miami Heat

Tuesday, June 20*
ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks

Thursday, June 22*
ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks

* If necessary

Which is why they had to have serious regrets at night's end.

"They looked awesome early on," Nowitzki said. "I thought they had everything going."

Not everything, perhaps, but Miami had an undeniably precious opportunity to steal the series opener here, largely because Nowitzki had a serious nightmare.

He was admittedly nervous on the big stage. He was, in turn, passive. Nowitzki was also roughed up by the better-than-billed Miami defensive tandem of Udonis Haslem and James Posey, whose combined aggressiveness and physicality ushered Nowitzki to a stunning conclusion.

Zero points in the fourth quarter.

Of course, with Miami outscoring Nowitzki by only 12 in that quarter, it cannot be recorded as a historic achievement for the Heat.

It goes down instead as a 90-80 defeat and a considerable missed opportunity, given that Nowitzki missed 10 of 14 shots and finished with just 16 points ... or 34 points shy of the 50 he had in his last game here.

"We had the opportunity that we wanted," Haslem said. "We just didn't do what we were supposed to do."

The Heat had more than a mere opportunity.

They had the look of vets who had been here before, even though Shaquille O'Neal and Gary Payton were the only Miami rotation players with NBA Finals experience before this Game 1.

They had Nowitzki flummoxed and Josh Howard equally discombobulated, too. It was tough to tell, honestly, which of the hosts' two steadiest players looked shakier. ("If you would have told me that Josh and myself would go 7-for-28 [from the field] and we win this game," Nowitzki said, "I wouldn't have believed it.")

The Heat showed a worldwide audience a lot of the newfound unity and discipline that made them the best in the East, to the point that they even had O'Neal jumping out hard on pick-and-rolls to further discourage Dallas.

The problem?

Miami's mistakes were fatal.

Only two Heaters got to the line all evening and one of them -- Shaq -- missed his first eight free throws. (Shaq missed his first 10, really, if you count the two misses waved off for lane violations).

The Heat also failed to build on an early 11-point lead when Heat coach Pat Riley's gamble to spare O'Neal from a third foul backfired. Riley sat O'Neal for the final two minutes of the second quarter, after Shaq's second foul, and Dallas capitalized with the final seven points of the half . . . helped along by Miami's six straight empty possessions.

Those boosts were all Dallas needed, even with Nowitzki in a stunningly ineffective state given his new playoff standards. That's because their defense stiffened in the fourth, nudging Miami into its own funk from the perimeter.

But that's also because these Mavs don't fold easy, no matter what's happening with Nowitzki. As proven more than once in the seven-game epic against their longtime tormentors from San Antonio, Avery Johnson's Mavs can win these kinds of grinding playoff games.

What kind?

"Ugly and sloppy," Riley said.

Nowitzki, strangely, was at the forefront of it all. It was the last thing you expected, frankly, with Dwyane Wade in town to engage him in the definitive duel for unquestioned King of the Playoffs.

The role in Nowitzki's struggles played by Haslem and Posey (and their double-team helpers) can't be discounted. Those two invalidated the considerable pregame skepticism about their ability to stay with Nowitzki and pushed right up on him. Nowitzki responded with passivity as opposed to rim-attacking aggression and even his few jumpers that dropped looked well shy of their usual smoothness.

Then there was the overthrown inbounds pass in the closing seconds of the first quarter, setting up ex-teammate Antoine Walker for a 30-foot heave that put Miami up eight.

"I thought we were a little frozen up," Nowitzki said, putting himself high on that list. "Nobody has really been here before besides Avery and Darrell Armstrong, but [Armstrong] didn't even play when he was [in the Finals] with Orlando."

Yet the truly troubling part for Miami is that Nowitzki started the San Antonio series in similarly meek fashion. By Game 7, you'll recall, he was outdueling Tim Duncan and uncorking a decisive 37 points and 15 boards on the road in what then ranked as the biggest moment in franchise history.

"You didn't really see the real Dirk tonight," Johnson suggested.

Which had to make Miami wonder what happens when that Nowitzki returns.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Dimes Past: June 3 | 4 | 5 | Best Photos: West | East | 7 | 8


Strong As A Brick, And Shoots 'Em Too
Shaquille O'Neal at FT line
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images
Avert your eyes. This image might not be suitable for all audiences. It's Shaquille O'Neal shooting free throws. He made 1-of-9, bad even by Shaq's masonlike standards.


Heat Don't Have The Answers
Dwyane Wade

One by one the Miami Heat players exited their locker room and made the long walk to the team bus with blank expressions on their faces. Once aboard, each player sat in a separate row to be alone with his thoughts, most of them scrolling through their missed calls and text messages on their cell phones, picking out those to whom they'd provide answers.

That is, if they had any.

The final score may not have reflected it, but the Heat let one get away Thursday night in Game 1 of the Finals, failing to build upon a dominant first quarter that seemed to give them a false sense of security.

A 10-point lead was gone by halftime, and nothing was left in the tank late in the fourth quarter when the Heat couldn't put even a minor dent into the Mavericks' semicomfortable lead.

No fingers were pointed afterward, except by players pointing at themselves, and the two guys who deserved to be angriest at the man in the mirror were none other than Miami's two superstars, Shaquille O'Nealand Dwyane Wade.

They were the only two players to go to the foul line for the Heat, and both were bad.

O'Neal was easily the worst of the two, missing his first eight free-throw attempts (actually 10, since two were waved off by lane violations) and finishing 1-for-9 while Wade was 6-for-10. Those 12 misses more than made up the final deficit.

Shaquille O'Neal Worst FT Pct, Playoff Career (Min. 6 FTA)
Date/Opp. FT Pct.
5/95 vs IND 0-8 0.0
4/06 vs CHI 0-6 0.0
6/06 vs DAL 1-9 11.1
5/96 vs CHI 1-9 11.1
2 times 1-7 14.3
"Yeah, throughout my career I know that if I want my team to win a championship, I have to step up to the line and hit them -- and I will," O'Neal said. "Probably just, you know, thinking about it a little too much."

Well, here's something else to think about, Shaq: The team that wins Game 1 has gone on to win the championship 43 out of 59 times. The last time it failed to happen was in 2001 when Shaq's Los Angeles Lakers were upset by Philadelphia.

O'Neal fielded six questions in his postgame news conference and used the word "mental" four times, "silly" twice and "mistakes" a whopping seven times.

Aside from the missed free throws, the mistake column also included 16 turnovers, including four in the fourth quarter. Antoine Walker finished with six TOs while Wade had five, and Jason Terry came up with all three of his steals over the final 12 minutes.

Pat Riley had an ashen expression on his face as he was one of the last members of the Miami contingent to make his way onto the bus. Neither team had played particularly well in this Game 1, but Riley's team was the worst of the worse on a night when it had a chance to seize control in the same manner as the Heat did in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals at Detroit.

"You know, this is a fight," Riley said. "This is what it's about. It's competitive, and it's going to get sloppy and ugly at times. You've got two teams going at each other hard, and somebody exhales for two minutes and you might be down eight or nine points. That's the way it was. That's what happened to us in the fourth quarter."

Actually, it happened to Miami at the end of the second quarter, too.

And since this is no time for lulls or lapses, that might help explain why the Heat players looked so lost on the way out of the building.

-- Chris Sheridan in Dallas



Dime Mailbag: Finals Thoughts
TC (Hasbrouck Hts, N.J.): First of all, props to Avery Johnson for applying the full-court pressure with about four minutes to go when the Heat were obviously going to start to pound the ball down to Shaq. But what was Pat Riley thinking coming out of a timeout, down by 7, 3 minutes to go, and setting up Jason Williams with a 3-pointer from the corner? Did we just watch Johnson outcoach Riley?

Rick (Seattle): Miami Heat fans are so funny. They talk their team up way beyond belief, far more than fans of other teams. Sorry folks, the Heat beat the Pistons more because of the Pistons' uninspired, tired play than because of anything the Heat did. Mavs in 5, easily.

Chad (Detroit): Now that the Pistons aren't in the Finals, I Guaransheed that the ratings won't be as good as the last two years. More people in Michigan watch basketball than all of Florida, and if Texas didn't have two REALLY good teams, Michigan would watch more than them too. I might tune in, but only to watch Dirk scorch the Heat. The Heat have no chance. D-Wade is sick and Shaq will have eight different guys coming at him like he had in the 2004 Finals against the Pistons. Mavs in 5.

• Talk back to the Daily Dime gang




Terry Town

Jason Terry flew like the ex-Hawk he is, leading Dallas with 32 points in the Mavs' 90-80 win in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Mavs Win Game 1



Jason Bury
Jason Terry
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Mavs guard Jason Terry went 13-for-18 (72 percent) from the floor Thursday in his first appearance in the NBA Finals. According to Elias Sports Bureau, that's the fourth-highest field-goal percentage in a player's first NBA Finals appearance, and the highest since Adrian Dantley went 14-for-16 (88 percent) in his first Finals game for the 1988 Pistons (minimum: 10 field goals made).


Extreme Behavior
Jason Terry

Thursday's Best
Mavs guard Jason Terry: For his first NBA Finals game ever, Jason Terry was smooth. JT was a spectacular 13-for-18 from the field, including 4-for-7 from behind the arc. Terry was large at crunch time. He held off the Heat with 12 in the fourth quarter.

Gary Payton

Thursday's Worst
Heat guard Gary Payton: The Glove did not fit tonight. GP looked off balance all night. He was a very shaky 0-for-4 from the field (0-for-3 from 3).

Quote of the Day
"This Jason Terry makes us a pretty special basketball team, because on a night like tonight, when Dirk and Josh go 7-for-28, you need to get more offense from somewhere."
-- Mavs coach Avery Johnson, on his team's star guard.

See how all 18 who played stacked up
Hollinger playoff stats (Dirk's No. 2)
Plus/minus stats from 82games.com

-- Chris Ramsay in Dallas



Rest Shaq? Riley's Wrong Move
Shaq

For one night at least, experience looked awfully overrated.

One of the differences in this series was supposed to be the Heat's experience in the crucible of the Finals compared to that of the untested Mavs. And nowhere was this difference so glaring than in the coaching box. Pat Riley has won four championships and been to eight NBA Finals as a head coach, while Mavs coach Avery Johnson is in only his first full season.

So it was a bit surprising in Game 1 to see Riley, not Johnson, making the big gaffe.

With 2:00 left in the first half, Shaquille O'Neal picked up his second foul with Miami leading 44-38. Riley responded by taking Shaq out for the rest of the half, an overly conservative approach that quickly came back to bite him.

With Miami's post threat out, Dallas switched to a zone defense that completely stymied Miami. The Heat didn't score the rest of the half, and Dallas went into the locker room with the lead after Dirk Nowitzki nailed a fadeaway at the buzzer.

It was important in the context of the game -- an 8-0 run in a game where the final margin was 10 points -- but perhaps even more psychologically. Dallas went to the break up by two despite being thoroughly outplayed in the first half (has a 10-point win ever felt less satisfying than this one?), and Miami never retook the lead in the second half.

At least one Miami player felt that stretch was the key.

"In the second quarter, we really had a chance to kill their confidence," noted Antoine Walker afterward. "We took a 10-, 11-point lead. They did a good job of bouncing back and obviously took the lead before half."

See the full John Hollinger story Insider



Good Signs For Heat, But Still Lose By 10
Josh Howard

The Miami Heat have to be concerned for a variety of reasons after their Game 1 loss.

Miami kept the tempo of the game to its liking and limited the Mavs to 14 fast-break points. The Heat limited the impact of Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard, holding the high-scoring duo to a combined 26 points on 7-for-28 shooting. They were the first team to outrebound Dallas in the postseason. Yet, despite all these positives, how is it possible the Heat lost by 10?

First, they had two critical stretches during which they were careless with the ball and forced quick shots without entering the ball in the post to Shaquille O'Neal. The first stretch took place over the last four minutes of the first half when the Mavs ended the half on a 10-0 run to steal the momentum and take a two-point lead into the locker room. This, after the Heat played almost perfect basketball over the first 20 minutes. The second stretch was a six-minute run in the third quarter during which Shaq was on the floor the entire time yet did not receive one touch in the post. The result was a series of turnovers, quick jumpers and rushed possessions with the shot clock running out.

If the Heat want to make this a competitive series, they must play a much more disciplined game offensively. The inside/out game they managed in the first quarter led to 70 percent shooting and 31 points. It must stay that way for the majority of the game.

For the Mavs, they should feel pretty good winning a game played at the Heat's pace, and with subpar performances from Nowitzki and Howard. Jason Terry was the best player on the floor and the Mavs bench was big, outscoring the Heat's reserves 24-2. Overall, Dallas was much quicker on both ends and took advantage of the Heat's poor defensive rotations out of double teams to move the ball to the open shooter and space the floor.

-- Tim Legler in Dallas



Elias Says
• The Heat scored only 12 points in the fourth quarter, tying the second fewest fourth-quarter points in a NBA Finals game in the shot-clock era. In Game 3 of the 1998 Finals, the Jazz scored only nine fourth-quarter points against the Bulls. Two other teams had 12: Utah in Game 1 of the 1998 Finals and the Bulls in Game 6 of the 1993 Finals in Phoenix. (Each of those teams did it in wins).

• Shaquille O'Neal went 1-for-9 from the free-throw line. The only player who has had such a poor free-throw percentage in a NBA Finals game (minimum: five attempts) is Wilt Chamberlain, who did it three times (1-for-11 in 1970 Game 7, 1-for-10 in 1970 Game 1 and 1-for-9 in 1973 Game 2).

Dwyane Wade, the only other Heat player to take a free throw Thursday, went only 6-for-10 from the line. The Heat's 7-for-19 (37 percent) performance was the lowest free-throw percentage by a team in an NBA Finals game. The previous worst was 42 percent (5-for-12) by the Bulls against the Jazz in Game 4 of the 1997 Finals.

• Game 1 of the 2006 Finals was a lot like Game 1 of the 2005 Finals in that the road team had a large lead and wound up losing by a fairly wide margin. The Heat led by as many as 11 points Thursday but lost by 10 in Dallas. Last year the Pistons had a 13-point lead in San Antonio and lost by 15.

• Pat Riley entered this series with 149 more career playoff wins than Avery Johnson (167 to 18). That's the largest differential in playoff victories by opposing coaches in NBA Finals history. The previous most was the 141 playoff wins separating Phil Jackson (152) and Byron Scott (11) entering the 2002 Finals in which the Lakers swept the Nets in four games.

• It has been 12 years since Riley last made an appearance in the NBA Finals as a head coach (1994 with New York vs. Houston). That's by far the most seasons between NBA Finals appearances by any head coach in NBA history. The next longest gap was nine years, by K.C. Jones from 1975 to 1984.

• Dallas and Miami are each making their first appearance in the NBA Finals. This is only the sixth time in the league's 60-year history that two teams are making their first appearance in the Finals in the same season. It last happened in 1971 (Milwaukee vs. Baltimore).

Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias

 

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