The fact that the Mavericks were able to win two of these first four games is, frankly, remarkable. They’ve posted an Offensive Rating of 100.8 against the Heat compared to their scorching 112.5 mark for the playoffs as a whole. Dirk Nowitzki has shot 50% from the field and the three-point line in the playoffs, but just 43% and 46% against the Heat. Quite literally, the Mavericks saved their season in the last 12 minutes of Game 4. Basketball-Reference’s Win Probability projections gave the Heat a 78.3% chance of winning the entire series after the first three quarters of Game Four. Twelve minutes later their probability projection had dropped to 55.0%.
The Mavericks have basically outplayed the Heat for two stretches – the final 7:14 of Game 2 where they outscored the Heat by 17, and the final 10:11 of Game 4, where they outscored the Heat by 12. Over those 17 and a half minutes they’ve outscored the Heat by 29 points, the rest of the series they’ve been outscored by 24 points. Clearly something different has happened during those two stretches, allowing the Mavericks to thoroughly change the course of the action.
One major culprit would appear to be turnovers. Over those 17 and a half minutes, I counted 30 offensive possessions for the Mavericks, with just two turnovers. That’s a turnover rate (TOR) of 6.7%. Across the rest of the series the Mavericks have turned the ball over 52 times on 309 offensive possessions, for a TOR of 16.8% — an absurdly high percentage of possessions ending in turnovers. No team in the league had a TOR above 15.1% this season, and. only 23 teams in the last two decades have finished a season with a TOR above 16.0%.
According to Synergy Sports Technology, the Heat have scored 57 points on 48 transition possessions against the Mavericks, or 1.19 points per possession, compared to 0.87 points per possession on all other possession types. Although there have been moments of efficiency, the Heat’s half-court offense has been largely held in check by the Mavericks’ defense. Those transition opportunities, created by a slew of turnovers, have often been the catalyst for Heat runs. During the first four games, the Heat have had four separate runs where they outscored the Mavericks by at least nine points. I approximated the average pace during those Heat runs and arrived at a figure of 90.9. That’s considerably faster than the 85.1 average pace for the entire series. The pace factor for those 17 and a half minutes that the Mavericks dominated in the fourth quarters of Games 2 and 4 was a deliberate 82.7. The Mavs’ turnovers have sped up the pace, led to Heat transition opportunities, put their defense at a distinct disadvantage, and contributed to some of their larger deficits in the series.
We saw similar dynamic in the Western Conference Finals. I won’t guess at which is the chicken and which the egg, but in these playoffs, a slower pace has been tied to efficient offense and overall success for the Mavericks. The Heat are not the Phoenix Suns or Golden State Warriors - they don’t push the pace just for the sake of pushing the pace. They are more than comfortable in the half-court, and are only looking to run when they have a clear advantage. Those advantages manifest with Mavericks’ turnovers. The idea that transition defense can impair the sorcery of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade is ludicrous. If the Mavericks want to keep the Heat playing at a speed which limits their offensive effectiveness they need to simply protect the ball.