When Rick Carlisle placed J.J. Barea in the starting lineup with his team down 2-1 in the NBA Finals, some critics called it a panic move. Now that the Mavericks stand one win away from a championship, many now praise Carlisle’s move, saying that he has outmaneuvered Erik Spoelstra in these Finals.
It is now Spoelstra’s turn to make his own adjustment: start Mario Chalmers Sunday for Game 6. Barea has played most effectively at the start of the third quarters of Games 4 and 5, using his penetration to create offense. The Puerto Rican product made two 3-pointers in the first six minutes of the third quarter of Game 5 before making a bank shot moments later. Spoelstra subbed in Chalmers for Bibby, and Barea did not score for the rest of the quarter.
Now, Chalmers is not exactly stopping Barea. In the first minute of the fourth quarter Thursday night, Barea made an and-one layup against Chalmers. But the former Kansas standout is a better physical defender than Bibby, able to handle pick-and-roll situations much quicker. Chalmers has played an average of 27 minutes per game in the Finals compared to just 17 for Bibby, so what’s the point of starting the former Sacramento King anyway?
Spoelstra had the exact same situation with Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Joel Anthony in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Miami consistently started sluggishly in the playoffs, even trailing early against the Philadelphia 76ers, and a lot of that had to do with Ilgauskas’ slow coverage on the pick-and-roll. Anthony provided the Heat with a boost of energy when he came in. I could simply substitute "Bibby" for "Ilgauskas" and "Chalmers" for "Anthony" and the story would still ring true.
The move to start Barea is not the only reason Chalmers has earned the right to his starting job back: he is also playing better on the offensive end. Chalmers has scored in double figures in three Finals games, knocking down 15 triples in this series. In comparison, Bibby has not provided much at all offensively with the exception of Game 2.
Bibby should not come to Game 6 in a suit, like Ilgauskas has come to these past few games, though. I’d rather have Bibby on the floor than see Eddie House jack up shots when Chalmers gets a breather. When Carlisle moves to a backcourt of Jason Kidd and DeShawn Stevenson or Kidd and Jason Terry, Bibby can come into the game and guard Kidd. But when Barea is on the floor, Chalmers should too.
Heat co-captain Udonis Haslem called Game 6 the toughest game of the Heat players’ lives. I’d feel much more comfortable if Spoelstra uses his best available options in this elimination game Sunday.