Mavs coach Carlisle pushing all the right buttons

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Before tipoff, second-guessers were already saying this indicated panic. They were comparing it to Johnson switching hotels during Dallas’ stay in Miami during the 2006 finals.

With Dallas having played from behind most of the series, it appeared Carlisle wanted the speedy Barea to juice up the offense. It turned out to be more about changing Stevenson’s role on defense. Instead of playing Stevenson and Shawn Marion together, Carlisle wanted Stevenson to relieve Marion. It worked out so well that Stevenson played the entire fourth quarter.

Stevenson’s role has been among the most flexible under Carlisle, yoyo-ing from starter to deep reserve and back. At the urging of several players, Carlisle put Stevenson back in the lineup for the season finale. He also got the team’s leadership to agree to the latest move.

“A great call,” Kidd said.

Said Carlisle: “I never had any thought that it could be genius.”

_ He tweaked the rest of his rotation, too, shoving struggling forward Peja Stojakovic to the end of the bench and making Brian Cardinal the primary backup to Dirk Nowitzki.

Stojakovic was a liability the first three games, unable to score enough points to make up for how many he gave up on defense. The Heat targeted him every time they could. Still, there was always the chance of Stojakovic finding the stroke that went 6 for 6 on 3-pointers in the knockout game against the Lakers.

But Carlisle trusted Cardinal and the guy nicknamed “The Custodian” immediately provided the tenacity he wanted by drawing a charge against LeBron James. Cardinal gave Dallas seven quality minutes it needed more than folks realized.

_ He had to do more juggling because of illness and injury.

Carlisle knew Nowitzki was fighting a sinus infection. He had to manage his star’s minutes carefully, giving him longer breaks than usual to make sure he’d be available at the end. He ended up scoring 10 of his 21 points down the stretch.

Nowitzki played 39 minutes, but it was his fewest of the series.

Carlisle also rolled the dice by letting backup center Brendan Haywood play after missing Game 3 with a hip injury. He was in such obvious pain that after just three minutes on the bench, starter Tyson Chandler declared he was going back in. Carlisle let him go the rest of the game, and he never wore out, providing 13 points and 16 rebounds.

_ His use of zone defenses _ when, and which ones _ have befuddled the Heat.

Carlisle mixed coverages over the final 10:12, when Dallas turned a nine-point deficit into a three-point victory. The Heat missed 10 of their final 13 shots and had five turnovers over that stretch. They scored a measly 14 points in the quarter, their lowest of the finals.

James took only one shot in the final period and scored a career playoff-low eight points. His lack of aggressiveness has been well-documented, but the way Dallas is defending him deserves a bit of the credit, too.

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