Dirk Nowitzki played well in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, but the Miami Heat were able to walk away with a win for one reason--defense. They played Dirk just well enough to contain him, and kept everyone else from doing anything. It's been the story of the playoffs so far.
While LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have rightfully earned the lion's share of headlines, it's been the Heat defense that's kept the other team's superstars from ever going off.
In other words, the Heat defense contains someone like Dirk Nowitzki, and keeps him from stealing the spotlight from Wade and James. What's more, in Game 1 on Tuesday night, the Miami D harassed Dallas' bench scorers (Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, J.J. Barea) into an abysmal 4-21 shooting night. How'd they do it? With speed.
As Beckley Mason writes at Hoops Speak, "the Heat defense sprinted around the court, chasing the ball while the Mavericks, many doing little more than maintaining perfect spacing, whipped the rock from side to side. The Mavs created mismatches and forced wild closeouts. ... But as fast as the Mavericks moved the ball, there were times when the Heat defense was faster. Carlisle’s guys missed shots they normally make, but some of that should be attributed to their surprise at the ground Miami so rapidly covered. Even when left with customary time and space, Dallas looked rushed." And it was Miami's D that was rushing them.
With the defense swarming Dirk Nowitzki every time he touches the ball, it forces him into split-second decisions and throws the Mavs offense out of rhythm. Basically, facing the Heat forces Dallas to play twice as fast, lest they get caught by Miami's defenders, and harassed with on-ball pressure.
It's a subtle wrinkle that doesn't show up in the matchups, but it's also a good example of why, maybe, the Mavs' struggles in Game 1 weren't just coincidence. It was much harder for the Mavericks to get comfortable in Game 1. If that continues in Game 2, don't be surprised if the headlines go to Wade and James all over again. All because of that pesky Miami defense...