Carlisle Relies on Mr. Fifty in the Fourth

Let’s get this out of the way. Yes, LeBron James had a bad game. In 90 career playoff games, James has scored less than 15 points only four times. His team lost all four times. Last night, James was held to a career playoff low 8 points. He took 11 shots and only one in the fourth quarter despite playing all 12 minutes.

Take that paragraph and do with it what you wish. Get on James. Tell him he “shrunk” in the fourth quarter once again. Be that guy. Say he is not “clutch.” Use that cliched word again. I’m sure you’ve used it all year, why stop now? Just know I’m going to ignore you. Because James can miss 100 shots in a row and he’s still the best player on the floor. Period. And yes, I am aware Dwyane Wade is the likely Finals MVP should the Heat win it all. The Heat beat the Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals despite Wade’s statistically poor series. If James continues to put up pedestrian-type numbers in the Finals, the Heat lose. If Miami manages to win the championship, it will only be because James elevated his game.

In his post-game press conference, James admitted he needed to be more aggressive. He will be. The Heat as a team learned from their game 2, fourth quarter collapse and took care of business in game 3 by getting to the basket at all costs, distributing the basketball and not relying on long, contested jump shots. James will use that formula in game 5. Be aggressive, drive to the basket, get fouled or find the open man. It’s a simple game when the minor adjustment is made.

Just ask Rick Carlisle.

Carlise’s tightened rotation and subtle lineup changes in the fourth quarter of game four helped secure the victory for the Mavs. His reliance on zone defense made it difficult for LeBron to penetrate, forcing James to defer, either out of frustration or because the shot simply wasn’t there.

Stevenson opened up the floor for Dirk on
the Mavs final possession.

Carlisle started J.J. Barea alongside Jason Kidd, bringing DeShawn Stevenson off the bench. Say what you will about Stevenson, but in game 4, Carlisle’s strategy was predicated on his all-around play.

Coming into the Finals, the Mavs advantage over the Heat was in their depth. But prior to game 4, the Mavs bench was non-existent and the team was suddenly relying heavily on Dirk’s fourth quarter heroics. Peja Stojakovic has been a complete no-show in this series, not surprising considering the Heat’s quickness and athletic ability. But his ability to spread the floor on offense, allows additional airspace for Dirk. If Peja isn’t hitting open shots, that airspace evaporates and he becomes a huge liability for Dallas.

Instead of digging deeper into his bench in search of a playmaker, Carlisle chucked it. He used a seven-man rotation, plus a quick run for Brian Cardinal to spell Shawn Marion and play the 5 when Haywood couldn’t go. In fact, only six Mavs scored in the entire game and the bench played a total of 71 minutes.

Confidence in the plan.

Enter Stevenson a.k.a Mr. Fifty (a nickname he gave himself for shooting 50% from the field in like 2006). In a game where each team failed to reach 90 points, a hard-nosed defender that can hit an open shot is paramount. Stevenson is a competent defender and has shown he can make teams pay for doubling down on Dirk…at times. Game 4 needed to be one of those times.

Stevenson went 3 for 7 from deep, forcing Heat defenders to stick with him just long enough for Dirk, who was battling flu-like symptoms, to do his thing. In 26 minutes of action, Stevenson was +6. Huge for the Mavs. This is highlighted by Dirk’s running layup in the closing seconds of the 4th quarter. Up one with 30 seconds remaining, the Mavs stuck with Stevenson, placing him in the corner along with Jason Kidd, Dirk, Jason Terry and Tyson Chandler, opening up the floor with four knockdown shooters. As Dirk drove to the basket, Miami’s weak side help was a split second late, allowing space for Dirk’s layup off glass. An amazing shot by Dirk, but conventional wisdom would have Marion in the game at that crucial moment simply because he is a better player than Stevenson. But Marion, who has hounded Bron defensivley  the entire series, is not a reliable shooter outside of 10 feet. His defender would come down and help as soon as Dirk made his move to the basket.

Stevenson played the final 14 minutes of the game. Carlisle stuck with the plan. He trusted the adjustments. Not an easy thing to do with the game and the series on the line.

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