The Dallas Mavericks may feast from the table of Luka Doncic, who is oft the one-man engine of this team. But the team hits a different level when the support pieces are clicking. The Mavericks go from having a shot when Luka is hitting, to legitimate threat that at times is impossible to slow down when role players are in rhythm.
Plainly, the Mavericks need Tim Hardaway Jr.
It is no secret the Los Angeles Clippers will be loading up to disrupt Doncic in their first round playoff series against the Mavericks. For all the success they had against the Mavs in their first round matchup last season in the bubble, the Clippers didn’t do much to slow Luka down. In his playoff debut he went for 31 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists while shooting 36-percent from three (up a full five percent from his regular season average last year). And this was mostly without the Clippers having to account for Kristaps Porzingis.
In the playoffs there is typically two schools of thought in game-planning: you either let the superstar try to do it all on their own and exhaust themselves while cancelling out all other options, or you load up on the superstar and force the supporting cast to beat you. With so much focus on Luka, the Mavericks will desperately need the sharpshooting and shot creation of Hardaway.
Starting in less than half the games this season, and appearing in all but two, Hardaway has once again impressed. He has not only accepted whichever role Rick Carlisle needs from him on any given night, his numbers have nearly mirrored last season, a career year. It wasn’t until the home stretch of the season where Hardaway’s effectiveness fully came into focus.
The start to April wasn’t kind to Hardaway, a 15 game stretch that saw him average just 12 points per game while hitting a frigid 32-percent from three. He was in a slump. And so was the team, going 9-6 during these contests. Hardaway appeared this week on teammate JJ Redick’s podcast “The Old Man & the Three” and spoke about this rough patch:
“I had to talk to the sharpshooter [Redick] himself, like, what can I do, or what goes through your mind when you’re having, somewhat of a shooting slump? And JJ was like, ‘Man, just think 8-for-12’...and I just tried to implement that into my mindset...once that 42-point game happened, it just took off from there.”
The turnaround for Hardaway, as he said, took place in a start against the Detroit Pistons, where he exploded for 42 points and shot 6-of-10 from three. Whether it was a product of being near family (he spoke to the value of that in Detroit), or Redick’s “8-for-12” shooting mindset of taking quality shots, Hardaway found his rhythm again and it carried through the rest of the season. The final 10 games (nine starts) saw Hardaway average 23 points while shooting 47-percent from three, and a 7-3 record.
In their last playoff encounter Hardaway was solid, though his production from three dipped from his 40-percent mark in the regular season down to 35-percent. That slip, even if made up with other baskets has an impact. The way he stretches the floor and forces help defenders to stay home not only maintains spacing for the other shooters, it helps Doncic operate.
With Porzingis’ health and rhythm always in flux, the Mavs need THJ to be big. They are 13-5 this season when he scores at least 20 points. If they have a hope of upsetting the Clippers it starts with Doncic, but it may end with Hardaway.