In the latter half of the season, fans got to see the Dallas Mavericks hit their stride due largely in part to Jason Kidd’s coaching adjustments. Throughout the regular season, Kidd has made coaching adjustments in various aspects on the court. That includes lineups, drawn up plays against the opposing team’s schemes, and called timeouts in the flow of the game.
While the Mavs have shown a strong progression as a team, now that they are in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2011, they are showing an immense amount of trust in Kidd and how his adjustments are both present and impactful.
Timeouts and Gamewinners
In March, the Mavs had back-to-back games where Spencer Dinwiddie scored game-winning 3-pointers (assisted by Luka Doncic) to beat the Boston Celtics and then the Brooklyn Nets. Prior to the shot in the game against the Nets, Kidd called a timeout to set up the play. It speaks volumes of the trust between the players and their coach to execute the play perfectly. In addition to this, it is notable to look at the chemistry established between Doncic and Dinwiddie in such a short amount of time after Dinwiddie was traded to Dallas.
This same exact play was drawn up in Game 4 against the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs in the Mavs last possession and attempt to win the game. Unfortunately, it did not end the same way but again it validates the trust everyone has in each other to do their role and it starts with Kidd’s previous proven success.
Putting Players in a Position to Succeed
So much of the narratives surrounding the Mavs are based on Doncic, as he is their star player, because of the noise it would be easy for a young star to easily enter the wrong mentality. After two difficult games for the Mavs to start the series against the Phoenix Suns, a stark change occurred in the third game. The main difficulty on offense facing Doncic was that he had virtually no options to pass to because of the Sun’s strong defense and Mavs’ players lack of establishing themselves as threats.
In the first two games, Doncic’s 45 points and then 35 points were not enough to combat the Suns, challenging Kidd to find a way to reinvolve Brunson’s high level of offensive production that he had in the series against the Jazz.
The adjustments included more ball movement, attacking the paint, and protecting the ball more. The Mavs also had five players score double-digits including four out of the five starters, the most out of the three games in the series. Jalen Brunson led the Mavs in scoring with 28 points and combined with Doncic for 54 points.
Jalen Brunson said post Game 3, “I just found myself. Being aggressive, teammates gave me the confidence to make plays.”
On the other end of the floor the glaring issue was Doncic’s struggles on defense. Between game 2 and game 3 in an interview Kidd said, “He’s got to participate and play defense. There’s no secret, they’re going to put him in every pick & roll. They did the same thing with Dirk until Dirk participated and stuck up for himself. You can always ask for help but you have to participate.”
While Doncic stepped up to the challenge and Kidd’s call to action, what onlookers should be most impressed with is the way Kidd found a way to not only call out Luka, but meet him in the middle to give him the help that he knows he needs if the team is going to be successful. This help came in the form of lineup and matchup changes.
Frank Ntilikina has seen an increased role in this series, taking the rotation minutes from Josh Green. His defense in addition to Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Maxi Kleber were able to limit the Suns team on offense. Ntilikina’s three more years of experience over Josh Green is what the Mavs need playing a team that has significantly more experience in this position as they went to the Finals last year. Kleber has also seen an increase in minutes this series and closing games over Dwight Powell (starting lineup) and Spencer Dinwiddie (small-ball lineup) which propels this team on both sides of the ball.
These players were able to rattle the Suns’ key players in opportune times and force turnovers. At the end of the day, whether it is the most ideal situation or not the defensive effort begins with Doncic, as the team’s best player and leader he is responsible for setting the tone.
Kidd Knows What Works
Ultimately, the players have so much trust in Kidd because he has been here before and knows what it takes. The adjustments he has made throughout the season have proven to work and the bond he has created with the team shows their trust in him and those changes. Kidd recognizes the need for Doncic to elevate the level of play of the team in all aspects because he has experienced that same contagious energy with Dirk Nowitzki.
Let’s see if the Mavs are able to continue to build on this momentum as they are still down 2-1.