DALLAS — Jason Kidd, coach of the Mavericks, had a concise message for his players ahead of Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference Finals on Sunday night.
Open shots, he reminded them in the locker room, are easier to make than contested shots, so get in the paint and draw Golden State defenders. Do that, and the space will open up around the perimeter.
“Attack, attack, attack,” Kidd said, his voice betraying great urgency. “Make them work.”
It was a smart strategy, and sure enough, it worked. The Mavericks generated a respectable number of 3-point clean looks. The problem? They couldn’t do much. Luka Doncic, the team’s star point guard, offered a summary.
“Sometimes you feel like you’re open and everyone knows you can get a shot and then miss it,” he said. “That depresses you a bit.”
It was the final installment in a nightmare of a series for the Mavericks, whose 109-100 loss put them on the brink of elimination. Golden State can complete a four-game sweep on Tuesday, and if that’s not bad enough for Dallas, there’s also this heavily-recited anecdote: No team in league history has come back from three games to none. . series deficit the Mavericks face.
“It’s not over yet,” said Doncic, “but it’s not going to be easy.”
Not against an opponent Kidd described as a “dynasty”. Not against Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, together again after coming through two injury-ravaged seasons to lead the Warriors on the cusp of their first NBA Finals appearance since 2019.
But Golden State is also a potent mix of new and old. For part of the third quarter, the Warriors opted for a box-and-1 defense as first-year guard Moses Moody defended Doncic after receiving advice from Green. In the fourth quarter, Andrew Wiggins, who is playing his best basketball since joining the team in 2020, almost plunged Doncic into oblivion.
“It was impressive,” said Doncic, “I’m not going to lie.”
And Jordan Poole, the third-year guard who took advantage of the team’s tough seasons to become an explosive point guard, sealed the win with a late-game 3-pointer.
“They just stay connected the whole game whether they’re down 20 or up 20,” said Jalen Brunson of the Mavericks. “You can see that. It’s just very obvious.
It must be small consolation to them right now, but the Mavericks are learning 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 consistent play. While Kidd stopped short of conceding the series, he acknowledged it.
“Looking back on this summer, whenever it starts, we’ll understand what we’ve done and how we can improve,” he said. “We will continue to fight, but we will also improve through this experience.”
Give the Mavericks credit for trying to adjust their approach after losing 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 – drove into the paint, continually sending passes to the perimeter in search of a quality shot. It wasn’t until they dribbled a fourth time into the teeth of the defense that Dorian Finney-Smith spotted Brunson behind the 3-point line. He emptied 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 fed the ball to Finney-Smith for another 3-pointer, which pushed Dallas’ lead to 6.
But it was as good as it gets for the Mavericks, who were otherwise dismal 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 get good looks, and they just don’t go down.”
There were other issues. One of them was Stephen Curry, who had 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 squandered another valiant effort from Doncic. After scoring 42 points on Friday, he scored 40 on Sunday. The Mavericks lost both games.
“I’m still learning,” he says.
At least the Mavericks are going to win or lose by being themselves — and shamelessly. There is no better illustration of this phenomenon than the behavior of their players on the bench, who have walked a fine line between enthusiastic and obnoxious. They Applause. They dance. But they also stand precariously near the court, which has caused problems.
On Friday, for example, Curry threw a pass to an open player who claimed the ball. The problem was that the open player was Theo Pinson, an inactive Mavericks player. Curry had mistaken Pinson’s white shirt for a Golden State jersey.
“That was a good pass,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr deadpanned. “It was open.”
The league later fined the Mavericks $100,000 for continuing to violate league rules regarding “team bench decorum”. On several occasions, the league said in a statement that 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 playoffs for extracurricular activities from their bench.
“We’re not going to sit down,” Kidd said before Game 3. “We’re going to cheer.”
By the end of the night, Golden State had silenced them.