Miami won 92-84 in Game 1 of this year’s NBA Finals but then the next three games were decided by three points or less. The last time three consecutive games of an NBA Finals had been decided by three points or less came way back in 1948. That the set the stage for Game 5 on Thursday night with the series tied at two-all. NBA playoff history says that the Game 5 winner of a series tied at 2-2 has gone on to win 134 of the 161 previous series or 83.2 percent of the time, so clearly Game 5 had more than a little significance (more on that later). For the fourth consecutive time in this year’s Finals, the outcome was decided in the fourth quarter and for the fourth straight game, the Mavs outscored the Heat in the final period.
Thursday’s game saw both teams shoot well, as the Heat connected on 52.9 percent of their FG attempts while the Mavs made 56.9 percent of theirs. Each team scored a series high in points but Miami's 103 points fell nine points shy of the 112 points ‘rang up’ by Dallas. Dwyane Wade battled through a sore left hip after a first-quarter collision, to finish with 23 points while Bosh added 19 & 10. The main focus of course was LBJ, who came into this game off a playoff career-low of eight points in Game 4. While LeBron finished with a triple double (17-10-10), all anyone was talking about was his “disappearing act” in the fourth quarter, once again. That’s what happens when one tweets "Now or Never!!" on his Twitter page while later calling Game 5 “the biggest game of his career.”
The Mavs outscored the Heat 17-4 over the final 4:23 of Game 5, controlling the final minutes just as they had in comeback wins in Games 2 and 4. Dallas outscored Miami 22-5 over the last 6:19 of Game 2 to win 95-93 and 21-9 over the final 10:12 of Game 4 to win 86-83. In Game 3, Dirk scored Dallas’ final 12 points to bring his team back from an 81-74 deficit to tie the game at 86-all with 1:40 to go. The game could have gone either way at that point but the game’s only basket in the final 1:40 was Bosh’s game-winner with 39.6 seconds to go. Getting back to Game 5, LBJ scored just two points in the fourth quarter, on a meaningless layup late in the game. The man who entered the Finals having scored at least 11 points in a 4th quarter five different times in his first three 2011 playoff series, has now scored a total of just 11 fourth quarter points through five games of this year’s Finals!
In stark contrast, Dirk has scored 52 fourth-quarter points while averaging 28.1 PPG this series, connecting on 43-of-44 FTs (24-of-24 in the 4th quarter). Terry shot poorly in the first three games of the series (38.2 percent, including 4-of-12 on threes) but has scored 17 and 21 points the last two games, making 14-of-27 shots (51.9%), including 4-of-9 threes. Barea was terrific off the bench in averaging 11.4 PPG vs the Lakers and Thunder but had scored 11 points through the first three games of this year’s Finals. However, Rick Carlisle inserted him into the starting lineup for Games 4 and 5 and he’s scored 25 points, including 17 during Game 5 in which he made 4-of-5 three-pointers. Will Erik Spoelstra be able to make some adjustments of his own in Game 6?
When Miami won Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in games, it was pointed out that in the history of the 2-3-2 format, the Game 3 winner in a tied finals had won the championship all 11 previous times. That can’t be much of a confront for Miami now that it has lost two straight games, including an all-important Game 5. I noted earlier that the Game 5 winner of a series tied at 2-2 has gone on to win 134 of the 161 previous series (83.2 percent) but I will also note that the Game 5 winner of an NBA Finals tied at 2-2 has gone on to win the title a more modest 19 times in 26 previous tries (that’s 73.1 percent). Also note that in this 2-3-2 format, the Game 5 winner of a series tied at two-all has won just SIX of nine previous times, or “just” 67%.
Breaking that down even further reveals that four of those six winners were road teams which won Game 5, meaning those teams returned home for Games 6 and 7 (if necessary) with a 3-2 lead. In contrast, the five home teams which won Game 5 to go up 3-2, were forced to go on the road to clinch the title. Just two of those five (40%) were able to do so. The 1985 Lakers won Game 6 in Boston 111-100 in the very first year of the 2-3-2 format and the 1998 Bulls won 87-86 at Utah in Game 6, a contest punctuated by MJ’s game-winning jumper and memorable pose over Byron Russell (no push-off, right?). Teams which were not able to win the title after taking a 3-2 lead in the 2-3-2 format were the 1988 Pistons (lost Games 6 and 7 in LA to the Lakers), the 1994 Knicks (lost Games 6 and 7 in Houston to the Rockets) and last year’s Celtics, who lost Games 6 and 7 in LA to the Lakers.
The above would indicate that the Mavs’ best chance to close out the series would be to win in Game 6. That fits well with this stat, as Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle is a perfect 3-0 this postseason and 10-3 in his career in potential series-clinching games. That’s a winning percentage of .769, tying him with Tommy Heinsohn for the best win percentage in NBA history. However, the Heat were 9-0 SU (7-2 ATS) in the postseason (two non-covers came in eight-point wins) prior to their Game 2 loss, one in which the team led by 15 points with under 6 1/2 minutes to go in the game (see above).
“Zig-Zaggers” were a perfect 3-0 in this year’s Finals before losing with Miami in Game 5. They have now guaranteed themselves another losing postseason, as they are 31-31-3 ATS this postseason (minus-3.1 net games) with just two possible games remaining and would be on Miami again in Game 6, which starts at 8:00 ET on ABC Sunday night (current line as of 2:00 ET on Saturday is Miami minus-5 with a total of 187). Home teams are 54-26 (.675) this postseason, going 37-39-4 ATS. The Game 5 total ‘flew’ over, leaving the over/under record at 38 overs and 41 unders and one ‘push’ through 80 postseason games.