It was experience vs. youth this weekend as both the Eastern and Western Conference Finals took to the court for the pivotal game 3. Both series were tied 1-1 and when the dust settled, both winners would have two things in common, experience and a dominating defensive performance.
The first game to tip off this weekend was the Dallas Mavericks-Oklahoma City Thunder game and from the get-go, you could tell the Mavs were on a mission to reclaim home court. They open up the game outscoring the young Thunder 27-12 in the first quarter and went on to hold a 52-36 lead at half. From there it was simply a matter of holding on and doing just enough to get the win, which they did by a 93-87 final.
"In a game like this in someone else's arena, coming off a loss, you have to come out with anger and an intensity," Mavs Jason Terry said. "We did that."
One plus for the Thunder in the game, however, was that they finally got to Dirk Nowitzki and rattled him a bit. Nowitzki missed 10 of his first 14 shots and went on to have a pedestrian, for him, 18 points on 7 for 21 shooting. Dirk was able to do what he does best in the fourth though as he hit a few clutch jumpers to keep the rallying Thunder from getting to close.
"He's our guy. In the fourth quarters, he's going to touch the ball as frequently as we can get it to him," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "If he misses a few shots, he's not going to get deterred, he's not going to get discouraged. He's got the kind of will, he's going to keep going at it."
In Miami Sunday night, the tale was much the same as defense was the name of the game for both teams for three quarters.
Fans knew they were in for a slobber-knocker between the Bulls and the Heat when both teams combined for 32 points in the first quarter. They would then go on to play even basketball through the next two quarters, both scoring 25 in the second and third, before the Heat ratcheted up the intensity in the final stanza, out dueling their younger counterparts 28-20 to win 96-85 and take the important 2-1 series lead.
"There is absolutely nothing easy in this series," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "It's still all about enduring, sustaining and finding a way to grind it out."
The key to Miami's win, other than Chris Bosh erupting for 34 points, was their ability to neutralize the leagues current MVP, the Bulls Derrick Rose, for most of the game. They threw double teams at him every chance they got, even to the extent that both Chris Bosh and LeBron James were both on him at times, and the young point guard had no answer for what was being done to him.
Of course, it doesn't help that the Bulls were consistently running pick and rolls for Rose, allowing the Heat to easily set a double team since the second player was already there. The better thing to do would have been to clear out the front court and let Rose go one on one with Mike Bibby, and if the Heat sent out a second defender, he could get it to the open man. Any way you look at it, however, this was not the kind of night Rose expected, or wanted, to have.
"It's definitely frustrating," Rose said. "Our will wasn't there tonight. They still found a way to win."