Until winning the NBA championship as head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, Rick Carlisle never received the respect he deserved. Carlisle has a .600 career winning percentage as a coach, and he led the Pistons to back-to-back 50-32 season in Detroit before being replaced by Larry Brown who led them to a title. Carlisle coached the Pacers for four seasons and took them to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing his job three seasons later. Now, after his ninth season as a head coach, he’s earning the respect he deserves.
While most of the credit goes to guys like Jason Terry and DeShawn Stevenson for making their shots, and of course Dirk playing so well throughout the series, Carlisle did what coaches are supposed to do: put his players in the best position to succeed. Carlisle did this in two ways.
After Dallas went down 2-1 in the NBA Finals, Rick Carlisle decided to change things up. He added J.J. Barea and Brian Cardinal to the starting lineup. Cardinal, who had only played one minute in the first three games of the series, played 29 over the next three. He was nothing spectacular but he did play tough defense and commit hard fouls. Inserting Barea into the starting lineup was the real difference-maker for Dallas.
Barea didn’t play more than 19 minutes or score more than six points in any of the first three games of the Finals. After being inserted into the starting lineup, Barea played 22, 26, and 30 minutes. He scored 8, 17, and then 15 points in the team’s closeout games. The Mavs went 3-0 with him in the starting lineup.
Anyone who watched Game 6 saw that Barea was unstoppable. He got into the lane with ease, breaking down Miami’s defense. His penetration caused the Heat to collapse to the basket and it opened up Jason Terry and DeShawn Stevenson for wide open outside shots. When Barea didn’t pass out, he was able to finish his layups with scoop shots and tear drops by the basket. He also shot well from the outside, particularly in Game 5 when he went 4-for-5 on threes.
One of the reasons J.J. Barea doesn’t play starters minutes (aside from being on a team stacked with good guards) is because he’s considered a liability on defense because of his size. Though he struggles to guard larger players one-on-one, Dallas has enough bigs that they can provide help. If a player gets past Barea, they know they’ll be challenged by Tyson Chandler in the paint. In essence, Dallas had good enough defense to cover up Barea’s weaknesses on that end, allowing him to remain in the ballgame to do what he does best — break down opposing defenses with his penetration offensively.
Like I said, Rick Carlisle didn’t make the shots, he didn’t defend Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, and he didn’t hustle for the rebounds. But he did what coaches are supposed to do: put his team in the best position to win. By inserting J.J. Barea into the starting lineup and by coming up with the defensive gameplan he and his staff did, Carlisle executed his job effectively.
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