The Dallas Mavericks just may not be good enough yet
By Scott Cacciola
Jason Kidd, coach of the Dallas Mavericks, had a concise message for his players before Game 3 of the NBA’s Western Conference finals Sunday night in Dallas.
Open shots, he reminded them in the locker room, are easier to make than contested shots, so get into the paint and draw Golden State defenders. Do that, and space will open up on the perimeter.
“Attack, attack, attack,” said Kidd, his voice betraying no small amount of urgency. “Make them work.”
It was a smart strategy, and sure enough, it worked. The Mavericks generated a respectable number of clean looks at 3-pointers. The problem? They couldn’t make many of them. Luka Doncic, the team’s star point guard, offered a synopsis.
“Sometimes you feel like you’re open and everybody knows you can make a shot, and then just miss,” he said. “It gets you quite a little bit down.”
It was the latest installment of a series-long nightmare for the Mavericks, whose 109-100 loss put them on the brink of elimination. Golden State can complete a four-game sweep today, and if that isn’t dire enough for Dallas, there is also this heavily recited piece of trivia: No team in league history has come back from the three-games-to-none series deficit the Mavericks are facing.
“It’s not over yet,” Doncic said, “but it’s not going to be easy.”
Not against an opponent that Kidd described as a “dynasty.” Not against the likes of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, together again after wading through two injury-ravaged seasons to lead the Warriors to the cusp of their first NBA Finals appearance since 2019.
But Golden State is also a potent blend of new and old. For a stretch of the third quarter, the Warriors went with a box-and-1 defense as Moses Moody, the first-year guard, defended Doncic after receiving guidance from Green. In the fourth quarter, Andrew Wiggins, who has been playing his finest basketball since joining the team in 2020, nearly dunked Doncic into oblivion.
“That was impressive,” Doncic said, “I’m not going to lie.”
And Jordan Poole, the third-year guard who took advantage of the team’s lean seasons to develop into an explosive playmaker, sealed the win with a late-game 3-pointer.
“They just stay connected throughout the entire game, whether they’re down 20 or up 20,” the Mavericks’ Jalen Brunson said. “You can see that. It’s just very evident.”
It must be small consolation for them right now, but the Mavericks are learning some valuable lessons — many of the same lessons the Memphis Grizzlies learned in the last round when they succumbed to Golden State’s experience and wisdom and all-around cohesive play. While Kidd stopped short of conceding the series, he acknowledged as much.
“As we reflect this summer, whenever that starts, we’ll understand what we did and how we can get better,” he said. “We’re going to keep fighting, but we’re also going to get better from this experience.”
Give the Mavericks credit for trying to adjust their approach after blowing a 19-point lead in Game 2.
That adjustment was on display early in the second quarter of Game 3, as the Mavericks — once, twice, three times — penetrated into the paint, continually sending passes to the perimeter in search of a quality shot. It was only when they dribbled into the teeth of the defense for a fourth time that Dorian Finney-Smith spotted Brunson behind the 3-point line. He drained the shot.
Later in the quarter, Brunson repaid the favor when he picked up his dribble near the left elbow. As a slew of Golden State defenders converged on him, Brunson whipped the ball to Finney-Smith for another 3-pointer, which pushed Dallas’ lead to 6.
But that was as good as it got for the Mavericks, who were otherwise woeful from the 3-point line, shooting 13 of 45. Reggie Bullock missed all seven of his 3-point attempts. Maxi Kleber was 0 for 5.
“We just didn’t shoot the ball well,” Kidd said. “We’re getting good looks and they’re just not dropping.”
There were other problems. One of them was named Stephen Curry, who collected 31 points and 11 assists while shooting 5 of 10 from 3-point range. The Mavericks also gave up too many offensive rebounds, and they wasted another valiant effort from Doncic. After scoring 42 points Friday, he went for 40 on Sunday. The Mavericks lost both games.
“I’m still learning,” he said.
If nothing else, the Mavericks are going to win or lose by being themselves — and unapologetically so. There is no greater illustration of this phenomenon than the behavior of their players on the bench, who have been treading a fine line between enthusiastic and obnoxious. They cheer. They dance. But they also stand precariously close to the court, which has caused issues.
On Friday, for example, Curry threw a pass to an open player who was calling for the ball. The problem was that the open player was Theo Pinson, an inactive player for the Mavericks. Curry had mistaken Pinson’s white shirt for a Golden State jersey.
“It was a good pass,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said, deadpan. “He was open.”
The league subsequently fined the Mavericks $100,000 for continuing to violate league rules regarding “team bench decorum.” On multiple occasions, the league said in a statement, players and at least one member of the coaching staff had encroached on the playing surface. It was the third time the league had fined the Mavericks in the postseason for the extracurriculars of their bench.
“We’re not going to sit,” Kidd said before Game 3. “We’re going to cheer.”
By the end of night, Golden State had rendered them silent.