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The Mavericks formula has run out of answers

Dallas’ approach pushed them past their weaknesses until now.

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you’ve heard this before in these playoffs about these Mavericks:

  • They’re getting killed on the boards
  • They’re getting outscored in the paint
  • They can’t matchup down low
  • The depth is too thin

Not only are these things you can say about the Mavericks down 3-0 to a dominant Golden State Warriors squad in the Western Conference Finals, but they’re also things that were said about this very same Mavericks team in the previous rounds against the Jazz and Suns. Dallas has faced these limitations all playoffs, yet have powered through on a formula centered around the brilliance of Luka Doncic, the endurance of a few high-level defenders, and math.

In the 2022 playoffs, the Mavericks three point frequency is 47.4 percent, highest of any of the 16 playoff teams. That means almost half over the Mavericks shot attempts come from three. It makes sense for a variety of reasons, most notably that Dallas assembled a roster of mostly stand-still, spot-up shooters around Luka Doncic, a player who is elite at creating open three point shots. As the Jazz, Suns, and now Warriors did things to attack the Mavericks weaknesses, those flaws listed above were decried as areas the Mavericks need to improve. If you could harness every single “the mavericks need to attack the basket more” tweet into a power source, we’d have renewable energy across the world. The thing is, this is who the Mavericks are. They shoot threes, because the roster demands that of them.

Dallas did that again Sunday night in Game 3 against the Warriors, taking 45 threes out of a total of 75 shots. It’s a formula in the previous two rounds has made those weaknesses matter less. Dallas shot 37 percent in round one against the Jazz and 40 percent against the Suns in round two. Against the Warriors? That number drops to 32 percent. It’s hard to tie up how a series is going so succinctly, but the Mavericks three point shooting is basically the sum of everything, which is why the Game 2 collapse when Dallas shot so well in the first half was so disappointing. Dallas shot just 29 percent on its 45 three pointers in Game 3, despite most of them coming on good looks created by well-run offense. That’s the game, in the simplest sense.

The other aspect of the formula — the endurance of a few high-level defenders — also seems to run its course. Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock have been one of the most formidable defensive duos in the playoffs, locking down the likes of Donovan Mitchell, Chris Paul, and Devin Booker. To do that, thanks to the Mavericks meager depth, they’ve played a ton of minutes. In fact, Bullock and Finney-Smith rank first and third, respectively, among playoff players in minutes played. Bullock and Finney-Smith also rank first and second in miles run during the playoffs. It’s no surprise that those two have run out of gas against a Warriors team that never stops moving. Bullock went 0-for-10 in Game 3 with zero points, while Finney-Smith was 3-for-7 with nine points. Bullock is shooting just 9-of-27 from three in the series, with most of those attempts being quality looks. The Warriors have just run a layup line for most of this series and especially in Game 3, shooting 21-of-28 from the restricted area. Up until this point the Mavericks have done a great job running shooters off the line but holding them up enough to force awkward paint shots and midrange jumpers. The Warriors perpetual motion has broken that down and turned those awkward longer twos into layups and dunks. This is not even mentioning the complete disappearance of Maxi Kleber, which has caused the both the five out offense and the aggressive defense, to lose a lot of its bite.

There doesn’t appear to be anymore answers for the Mavericks in this series. Some have called for coach Jason Kidd to make a more radical rotation adjustment, but there doesn’t appear to be one. Even if Dwight Powell never played another minute, it’s hard to imagine that changing much significantly since he is getting so few minutes to begin with. More minutes for Frank Ntilikina, Josh Green aren’t the answer either. The Mavericks have about six reliable players, which is hard to overcome after playing a playoff game just about every other day for over a month. Some have even called for a change in process, wanting more paint points points and aggressive, but that again flies in the face of what the Mavericks do. Dallas’ point guards have been great attacking and creating good looks, but the roster doesn’t have any dynamism beyond that. The Mavericks were built to shoot threes, so they just have to keep firing away. The formula had worked enough, but the Warriors are likely forcing the team back into the lab for more work.

Here’s our latest episode of Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you’re unable to see the embed below, click here to be taken to the podcast directly. Or go to your favorite podcast app and search Mavs Moneyball Podcast.