The Dallas Mavericks ask a lot of their role players. While Luka Doncic is the engine, Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie, to a lesser extent, are expected to carry the offensive load. The duties of not only exerting immense defensive pressure but also knocking down timely shots fall elsewhere.
It’s up to Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Maxi Kleber to perform at a high level on both sides of the ball night in and night out. If one or more of them isn’t up to the challenge, it can be the difference between a win and a loss.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing in this series. Both Bullock and Kleber were offensive duds in Game 3. They were able to bounce back in Game 4, helping the Mavericks to a 119-109 win over the Golden State Warriors to extend the Western Conference finals.
“That’s who they are,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said of Bullock and Kleber. “That’s their DNA. It’s not about just one game. It’s about the journey. It’s about being able to bounce back. That’s what they’ve done.”
“They’ve helped us as an overall team having that DNA of being able to have a bad game, being able to come back and play at a high level. Again, making shots is something we need those two to do and they did that tonight.”
Bullock and Kleber combined to shoot 0-15, scoring zero points, while playing 40 and 25 minutes, respectively, in Game 3. They woke up in Game 4. Bullock splashed home six of his 10 three-point attempts for 18 points. Kleber chipped in 13 points on 5-6 shooting, including taking the ball off the dribble and sinking his first two-point shots of the series.
“I just tried to do the right things, get the right spacing,” Kleber said. “Today, when they play zone or when they double-team Luka, it’s a short roll that’s open. The first one I caught really deep, so it was like a layup, otherwise you try to find guys and kick out. I’m not worried about what shot I get if it’s a two-pointer or three-pointer. I just try to make the right decision.”
Finney-Smith contributed too. He had one of his best games of the postseason, scoring 23 points on 69.2 percent shooting overall and 57.1 percent from deep. Of the Mavericks three key defensive role players, he’s been the most consistent at both ends during the series.
“I wasn’t really worried about Reggie because I knew he was going to bounce back,” Finney-Smith said. “But Maxi, again, told him to shoot 10 threes. But I’m just happy he got to see the ball go in. We just keep this thing rolling.”
The three accounted for 54 of Dallas’ points Tuesday night. Even when they aren’t scoring, they do intangibles that don’t necessarily show up in the box score.
“I think we have a lot of weapons,” Doncic said. “If they make shots, I think it’s tough to beat us. But no matter if they make shots or not, you know, I think they impact the game differently without stats, too. I think those guys are the key to our wins.”
Kleber battles the likes of Draymond Green and Kevon Looney down low. Bullock and Finney-Smith chase the likes of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and others around the perimeter. It was effective Tuesday as they held the Splash Brothers to a combined 4-11 from behind the arc.
“I think the first three games, I would say we haven’t shot it as well as we wanted to based on the shots that we got and the way that they were defending us,” Curry said. “Obviously tonight, I only got up five [three-point attempts], which is kind of weird. I’ll figure out exactly what they tried to do to take those looks away.”
Given the physical toll of scrambling around on defense, it’s understandable that their offensive production might be inconsistent from game to game considering the number of minutes each is playing this series. Bullock is averaging 39.7 minutes, Finney-Smith logs 39.2 minutes, and Kleber comes off the bench to play 24.7 minutes.
While they’re professional athletes, none of them are spring chickens. Bullock is 31 years old, Kleber is 30, and Finney-Smith is 29. Finney-Smith has expressed his fatigue in post-game interviews during the playoffs on more than one occasion, and he knows it’s going to take a team effort to claw back into the series from a 3-1 hole.
“We are going to need everybody because me and Reggie can’t play the whole game,” Finney-Smith said. “We’re going to get tired, especially chasing them guys around the whole game, you know. It’s going to take more than just me and Reggie guarding them guys.”
Still, playing them for long minutes gives the Mavericks their best chance to win even if the result is dead legs and missed shots sometimes. When Dallas built a 29-point lead in Game 4, Kidd emptied his bench for the final quarter. On cue, Golden State’s reserves made a run.
Bullock and Finney-Smith were the first starters to check back in as Kidd was forced to look to his primary players to slow the Warriors’ surge. Golden State followed suit as a tit for tat coaching battle played out.
As Doncic so eloquently put it, “A win is a win.” Dallas needs three more if they want to make history. They’ll also need strong contributions from all their role players, especially Bullock, Finney-Smith, and Kleber. Nothing is impossible and the Mavericks all believe they have a shot if they take it one game at a time.
“Like I said in Game 2, we proved that we can play the right way and be up,” Kleber said. “We just got to do a better job maintaining leads if we have them, same like today. We stay confident, as I said. We have no reason to be shy. With our backs against the wall basically, we just go out there and play our best, play hard, come out and compete like today.”
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