If the NBA ever needed a prime example of how much the “it’s a make or miss league” adage is true in this era of three point happy basketball, look no further than the Warriors 112-87 blowout win against the Mavericks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
The rise of the three point shot in the NBA has also led to a rise in lopsided blowouts, funky final scores, and windshield wiper basketball. A team can play relatively poorly, make their threes and mask the weaknesses with a hot shooting night. On the flip side a team can execute decently, miss their open threes, and look like a team that got run out of the gym, which is how you could describe the Mavericks on Wednesday night in San Francisco.
Dallas shot a remarkable 48 threes and made an even more remarkable (in a bad way) 11 of them — that’s 22.9 percent. What made it worse was the Mavericks opened the game getting quality three point looks, the team just clanked early and often.
There’s nothing really to break down in these clips. The Mavericks generated three point looks like the ones above for most of the night, the team just failed to capitalize. What made matters worse was the Mavericks three point shooting was so poor, it trickled down to other areas of their game. The Dallas defense was discombobulated all night and the Warriors getting multiple fast break opportunities didn’t help.
The Warriors present a far different beast than what the Suns or Jazz offered the Mavericks. Golden State is fourth among playoff teams in pace, with Phoenix 10th and Utah dead last at 16th. Fastbreak points are similar too — the Warriors are seventh while the Suns 12th and Jazz 16th. Dallas likes to play slow, as evident by their finish last in the regular season in pace and 13th in the playoffs. It helped in the first two rounds that they played teams somewhat similar to themselves, although Phoenix was eighth in the regular season in pace (Utah was 23rd). Still though, Golden State presents the fastest team Dallas has faced in the playoffs and it showed all throughout Game 1.
Those three point bricks by the Mavericks accelerated the Warriors transition game, as they outscored the Mavericks 18-7 in fast break points. The Mavericks are used to losing that battle, but to give up 18 is a significantly too high a number for their defense. For context, the Memphis Grizzlies led the regular season with 17.7 fast break points per game. Every Mavericks missed three was just another invitation for the Warriors to do what they do best — dictate the pace of the game with a relentless attack.
The transition game allowed the Warriors to get the Mavericks mixed up with cross matches. Dallas put Doncic on Andrew Wiggins for most of the night, not wanting him to chase Steph Curry or Klay Thompson on the perimeter, but the Warriors mixed up their defensive coverages so much, Wiggins wasn’t full time guarding Doncic. That meant on a missed shot or turnover, Wiggins smartly leaked out before Doncic could match up with him on the perimeter. Wiggins got some easy points doing this in the first half, getting fouled on this possession after Green rebounds a missed Brunson three pointer and gets it up to Wiggins almost immediately.
The Mavericks just haven’t had to worry about that aggressive of an attack in the previous two rounds. Those missed threes just kept snowballing all game — missed threes led to Warriors transition opportunities, Warriors transition opportunities got them easy points and worse the Mavericks out, a worn out Mavericks team continued to miss threes and fail to rotate better defensively. The Warriors were purposeful in their movements, like they always are.
That led to breakdowns in the halfcourt, as the Mavericks couldn’t set their defense with all the missed shots and failed to stay attached to the Warriors humming off-ball offense with the tired legs of chasing them in transition. This possession highlights how difficult it is to run with the Warriors in the halfcourt, as Curry cuts while Thompson is double teamed, lead to an open Wiggins three pointer. There just aren’t stars built like Curry, who seemingly never gets tired moving and cutting without the ball.
In the end it led to an absolutely brutal shot chart for Dallas.
It feels like a cop out to blame a lot of the Mavericks issues on their cold shooting, but it’s hard to ignore it. Those missed threes caused cascading issues that the Mavericks never could run down. It always felt like the Mavericks were playing this game with one arm tied behind their back, the shooting limited them that much.
“I mean, we were 11-for-48 from three and maybe eight of those are bad, right,” Spencer Dinwiddie told reporters after the game. “So that means you’ve got 40 good looks at three, you at least want to hit 15, 16 of them. Five more threes, 15 more points. You know, during the course of the game we were down about 20, which puts you in the game.”
It feels almost too simple to say, but that doesn’t make it any less true: the Mavericks need to make more shots. Once that happens, it’ll be easier to diagnose more of what is going on with the Mavericks in this series. But it won’t be a very long one if the threes don’t drop.
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