The 2022 NBA season is officially over, and the Golden State Warriors are champions once again. The Dallas Mavericks haven’t played in a few weeks, but that doesn’t mean I’m done trying to will them to more success.
The Finals taught us some things, and hopefully the Mavericks were paying attention. Here are three things to take away from the 2022 Finals.
1. Defense, defense, defense
It feels like the Mavericks are on the right path here, and that’s a good thing. After a few years of jaw-dropping offense and blah defense, Jason Kidd and Co. flipped the script. They slowed things down even more and focused entirely on defense.
The Mavs finished the regular season with a top-seven defensive efficiency rating and went into the playoffs hanging their hat on their ability to get stops. And guess what — it worked! The Mavs exceeded expectations and made it to the Western Conference Finals, ultimately losing to the eventual NBA champions.
The Finals featured two teams that also hung their hats on defense. The two best defenses in the regular season? The Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors. And their defenses were only magnified on the largest stage. Neither team was lights out on offense. That’s not how these guys won games. They did so with smart, suffocating defense.
The Warriors won the final three games of the Finals and held Boston to 97, 94, and 90 points, respectively. It didn’t matter how good the Warriors' offense was, because it didn’t need to be that good. It just had to be good enough to hold up in comparison to their defense. And thanks to Steph Curry, it was.
The Mavericks can follow that same mold. If their defense can be elite, Luka Doncic can carry their halfcourt offense the same way Steph Curry carried the Warriors’ halfcourt offense.
So, keep focusing on defense, Dallas. It’s a good way to win NBA games when they matter most.
2. Players on the fringes matter
One of my favorite parts of the Warriors’ championship run was watching how they used their guys on the fringes. We knew Steph Curry was going to ball out. That was a given. But over and over again in the Finals, the Warriors trusted guys that other teams had given up on.
Gary Payton II was a key contributor to their Finals run and ultimately played 20 minutes in the closeout game, finishing with a team-high +18 plus/minus thanks in large part to his defensive intensity.
Another guy the Warriors had success with was Nemanja Bjelica. He didn’t play in the closeout game and barely played in the playoffs. But, he was good enough to play spot minutes when it was advantageous to the Warriors’ matchups.
Gary Payton II and Nemanja Bjelica aren’t the types of guys that get fan bases excited in the offseason, but they’re the types of guys that can swing pivotal minutes in the biggest moments of the season.
Yes, you need a core five to play the majority of minutes, but everybody on the roster is crucial to a team’s success.
3. Don’t waste your window
This is the biggest and most important lesson, and despite how many times it’s thrown in the faces of NBA teams and fans, it feels like it always gets forgotten.
If you have a chance to win an NBA title, you have to do everything in your power to go all in and go for it.
Take a look at the Celtics. Their main core is young. Jayson Tatum is 24 and Jaylen Brown is 25. In theory, they should be back and should be back more than once. But will that actually happen? Giannis Antetokounmpo is still the Boss Level you have to beat in the Eastern Conference. Trae Young is up-and-coming. Joel Embiid is still there. The Raptors have an exciting core. Remember Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets?
Should Boston be back? Yes. But would you be surprised if they missed their window and couldn’t get past Giannis, Joel, or someone else for the next five years? I wouldn’t be.
On the flip side, the Warriors saw their window and jumped through it with full enthusiasm. Golden State will still be a force to be reckoned with next season, but the Western Conference is only getting better. Luka Doncic is coming. Ja Morant is coming. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are still there. LeBron James exists. The Suns are hungry. Reigning back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic is there. Anthony Edwards and Minnesota have a bright future. Did I mention the ceiling of Zion Williamson and the Pelicans?
This very well could’ve been the last chance Steph Curry and Co. had to add another ring to their trophy case, and they jumped all over it.
The Mavs need to do that same thing with Luka Donic. There can’t be any, “Well, Luka is still young,” in Dallas. He’s good enough to lead a team to a championship right now, and the Mavs need to do everything they can do maximize every chance they get.
Good news: Christian Wood’s acquisition makes it seem like the Mavs are aware of this.