The Dallas Mavericks returned to Chase Center with a bite for Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors. After dropping Game 1 there was clear urgency at the tip from the Mavericks, and it manifested on both sides of the floor for the first half. But that renewed energy disappeared, and tactics inexplicably altered. The Mavericks, who at one point led by 19 points, dropped Game 2 126-117.
It was well reported how many wide open threes the Mavericks missed in Game 1. While it feels like a cop out to turn to the “make or miss league” trope, it never felt more true in the first two quarters of Friday night’s game. The Mavericks starters went an absolute scorching 14/19 from three in the first half. But it wasn’t the deep ball that got the Mavericks going. It was Luka Doncic being assertive off the dribble, getting into the lane nearly at will. Reports had surfaced late Thursday night that Doncic had been battling illness, but he looked energetic and fresh early.
After half time, for whatever reason, the Mavericks ignored most of everything that went well in the first half and completely altered their offensive scheme (more on that below). What transpired was stagnant offense, cold shooting, and a lack of energy defensively. Unsurprisingly the Warriors never went away and were relentless on offense, increasing their ball movement and forcing their way into the lane. Golden State outscored Dallas 68-45 in the second half while the Warriors held homecourt and are up 2-0 in the series.
Some thoughts on what went down.
Doing what works, then never doing it again
The Mavericks were assertive on both sides of the court in the first half. Doncic and Brunson — who combined for 73 points, 44 in the first half — were quick off the dribble and getting into the lane with ease. It led to points in the paint and kickouts to wide open shooters who were knocking down their shots.
Then the second half arrived and the Mavericks scheme shifted. Doncic hunted Steph Curry switches. That idea itself is sound, both in forcing him to guard the ball and maybe tire him some to try and effect his offense. But it became the only focal point. So much so that ball movement ceased. Then both Doncic and Brunson focused their attention on Warriors center Kevon Looney, trying to force him into perimeter isolation (something they had little luck with in Game 1).
What worked in the first half was ball movement and attacking the paint. The Mavericks didn’t just shift from it, they went away from it almost entirely. To the Warriors credit they emphasized their energy and help defense in the lane. They switched to a zone that seemed to confuse Mavericks role players with where they should be. But the Mavericks never kept them in check. There is little explanation for going away from what worked so well in the first half.
Absent bench wings
The Mavericks bench guards and wings — Spencer Dinwiddie, Frank Ntilikina, and Josh Green — played 31 minutes tonight. They combined for four points on 2/10 shooting and were a collective -29. Frank Ntilikina, who played just under four minutes in the first half, was a -10. Spencer Dinwiddie was the only one to score, but also had four turnovers.
The Mavericks have had issues most of the postseason with little help, primarily in the minutes played by Ntilikina and Green. There were some nice defensive moments by Ntilikina against the Phoenix Suns. But too often those two are being exposed for their lack of offense and poor decision making off the ball. The deeper you get into the postseason the more roster depth can be exposed. Tonight was another blatant reminder of a hole in the Mavericks roster.
The Warriors had a massive night from Kevon Looney on offense, who had a career high 21 points to go along with 12 rebounds and two assists. He was the recipient of a barrage of dump off passes in the second half while it seemed every Warriors guard got to the lane and took advantage of poor defensive help. Looney also was great cleaning up the offensive glass with five offensive boards.
Depth at center has been a big question mark for the Mavericks since trading Kristaps Porzingis. This series felt like the best opportunity for starter Dwight Powell to contribute since the opponent wasn’t relying on a dynamic center starter. But he hasn’t been a plus. The Mavericks have ridden Maxi Kleber for the whole postseason, but tonight exposed a variety of issues in only having him to rely on. He hasn’t stretched the floor enough to play Looney off the floor, and his help defense hasn’t been effective in slowing guards down or keeping Looney out. Kleber was slow reading any movement in space, and there was no one helping behind him. Too many easy baskets for the Warriors when the Mavericks were hurting for points of their own.
This was a game the Mavericks needed, simply because it is so hard to shoot that well on the road more than once. The first half wasn’t sustainable, but to fold in that manner in the second half on both sides of the ball is jarring.
And yet, doesn’t this feel eerily similar to Game 2 against the Phoenix Suns? Granted, the playoff pedigree on that Warriors squad is miles ahead of the Suns. But there is something about tonight’s game that felt like a distant echo.
If there is a positive here it’s that the Mavericks found ways to impact the Warriors and score on them that is repeatable (even without shooting 100% from three). But there is no doubt their backs are against the wall and Game 3 is a must-win.
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