King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Mavs tell Shaq's Miami teammates: Go ahead, shoot. They do. And Game 1 goes to Dallas. Plus: Promises, Cuban's blog.


Salon Staff
June 9, 2006 8:00PM (UTC)

If there's one part of Shaquille O'Neal's game that's underrated, it's his passing. He's not an artiste or anything, but double-team him and he'll find the open guy.

That's what he did in the first quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday, scoring only two points but dishing out four assists as his Miami Heat teammates, mostly Dwyane Wade, scorched the nets, hitting 13 of 18 shots and jumping out to a 31-23 lead.

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And the Dallas Mavericks couldn't have been happier.

Miami's shooters eventually cooled off -- and how -- as jump shooters will. Heat players not named Shaquille O'Neal followed their 72.2 percent first quarter shooting by hitting 26.5 percent of their shots the rest of the way.

The Mavs rallied to take the lead at the end of the half, thanks to Miami coach Pat Riley committing this column's favorite coaching blunder, sitting O'Neal for the last two minutes of the second quarter to keep him from getting his third foul.

Dallas went on an 8-0 run to the buzzer, turning a five-point deficit into a three-point lead, and never trailed again on the way to a 90-80 win.

The 13-for-49 bricklaying after the first quarter by Shaq's teammates is the reason Dallas had to have been happy to have O'Neal hitting the open man from a double-team.

A dominant inside presence is a big problem for a defense every time down the floor. Shaq hit eight of his 11 shots of the night, though he hurt his team by missing an incredible nine of 10 free throws -- not counting two misses he was allowed to do over because of lane violations.

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But jump shooting can go hot and go cold. If you double-team the big guy and let him hit the open man, and the open men are knocking down their shots, you're cooked, as the Mavs were to the tune of eight points down in the first 12 minutes.

But nobody shoots 70 percent over time. As great as Dwyane Wade is -- and he is I-am-a-Dwyane-Wade-fanboy great -- he isn't going to keep up a 6-for-7 shooting pace, his first-quarter results Thursday. He hit five of 18 the rest of the way.

Put it this way: If you're the Mavericks, do you like your chances better with Shaq dunking, shooting three-foot hooks and putting both of your centers on the bench with six fouls by the middle of the fourth quarter, or with Jason Williams and Antoine Walker hoisting up the old three-ball?

Even when Shaq's free-throw shooting calls up memories of Dr. Jesse W. Haywood, take the jump shots. Even the ones by Wade. Close off Wade's drives if you can.

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The Mavs did and they won by 10, despite a terrible performance by Dirk Nowitzki, who responded to stiff defense by Udonis Haslem and James Posey by reverting to his old, passive, jump-shooting self. Jason Terry picked up the slack, scoring 32 points.

Game 1 rarely provides a template for a series between teams that are pretty evenly matched. Silly superstitions about foul trouble aside, Riley's no dope. He'll figure out a way to get O'Neal more shots. Nowitzki will bounce back, as he has following his other off games during his brilliant run this postseason. Wade will get hot and stay hot for a whole game at some point.

But Round 1 was a clear win for Dallas, which didn't play its best game, but had the smarts to say, "Go ahead. Shoot."

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Promises easy to make [PERMALINK]

A lot was made during the longish layoff before Game 1 of the NBA Finals of Shaquille O'Neal's "promise" to bring a championship to Miami at his welcome-to-town party two years ago. Those promises are easy to make because everybody talks about it when you get close to succeeding, but if you don't, nobody remembers.

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When's the last time you heard about these pledges?:

"I said it when I got to Denver, Boston and Cleveland and I'm saying it here now: I'm not leaving here without a title!" -- Tony Battie, Orlando Magic

"We're not just going to compete this year, we're going to beat the Heat." -- Josh Childress, Atlanta Hawks

"Last year was a warmup. This year, we're going all the way. I guarantee it." -- Bernard Robinson, Charlotte Bobcats

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We're the favorites: Everyone respects us! [PERMALINK]

Dallas Mavericks owner Marc Cuban wrote on his blog last week that the Mavs were underdogs to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Which they weren't and aren't.

When will someone lay claim to being the favorite?

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It's not so hard. Here's what you say: "The media thinks we're the favorites, but those media guys don't know what they're talking about. They're always wrong. That means we're really the underdogs -- and we've been underdogs all year. Nobody's respected us. And look how far we've gotten. So go ahead, disrespect us some more."

You know, I hire out for a fee.

Cuban blogged on an almost hourly basis Thursday leading up to Game 1, even posting an update at halftime. Worth keeping an eye on Blogmaverick.com over this next week or two.

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Table Talk chat reminder [PERMALINK]

The first monthly Table Talk chat will be Wednesday June 14 at 1 p.m. EDT. Join me in this column's thread for at least an hour, and maybe more, of talk about whatever you want to talk about.

After this one the chat will be on the first Wednesday of the month.

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Previous column: Baseball drug scandal "widens"

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