Well, that was fun.
The Dallas Mavericks completed what can only be surmised as an epic comeback against the defending Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns.
After being down 2-0, the Mavericks won both games at home to even the series at 2-2. After a game 5 meltdown in which Dallas lost 110-80, the series seemed to be over. I even had picked the Suns to win in 6. But Luka Dončić had other ideas. After being mocked by Devin Booker, Dončić led the Mavs to two straight victories by a combined 60 points to send Dallas to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2010-2011.
“Honestly I’m really happy man. You can’t get this smile off my face. We believed, our locker room believed.” Luka Dončić stated post Game 7.
A lot will be talked about regarding Phoenix’s collapse, but let’s be real here. Coach Jason Kidd made the right adjustments, the Mavericks’ defense showed why they were one of the best in the league the second half of the season, and Luka reminded everyone why you can never count out the team that has the best player in the series.
“A lot of people said this (series) was going to be a blow out, they were right… they just didn’t have us winning.” Jason Kidd stated after his team closed the series.
Entering Dub Nation
The road to the Finals doesn’t get any easier now that Dallas has a seven game series on their hand against the Golden State Warriors. A trendy preseason Finals pick, the Warriors are practically at full strength (minus the loss of Gary Payton II), in addition to the emergence of Jordan Poole has given them another weapon to add to the Splash Brothers. Memphis, despite Ja Morant’s injury, gave somewhat of a blueprint on how to beat Golden State. But it’s not like Dallas doesn’t have that already. The Mavericks and Warriors faced off four times during the regular season, with Dallas winning three of those contests. However, Steph Curry was the only key member of the Warriors to play in all four games during the regular season. The Mavericks will face a tough test against a healthy Golden State team that returns their coach, Steve Kerr, as well.
When looking at the tape, the Warriors and the Mavericks essentially play two different styles of basketball. Dallas leads all playoff teams in time of possession, averaging 22.4 minutes of possession through their 12 postseason games. Golden State averages just 20.2 minutes of possession, as they have been one of the fastest paced teams in the league.
Dallas plays as one of the slowest teams in the league, looking to set up their half court offense with dribble drives and penetration with Dončić or Jalen Brunson. In their regular season matchups, Dallas’ defense held Golden State to 345 passes per 24 minutes of possession, their lowest output against any Western Conference opponent all season (the Warriors averaged 369 passes per 24 minutes overall).
Both teams are outstanding defensively, as both ranked in the top 10 in defensive rating in the regular season (Golden State was 2nd in the league with a 106.6 rating, while Dallas was 7th with a 109.1 rating). In the postseason, the Warriors and Mavericks are essentially neck and neck, at 110.7 and 110.8 ratings, respectively.
Key to the Series
The series will come down to the big defensive questions for each team.
For the Warriors, what do they do with Luka Dončić? Dončić had his way with the Jazz and the Suns, and he has an uncanny ability to call for a screen to get matched up against any defender he wants. The Warriors will probably throw some combination of Andrew Wiggins/Draymond Green/Jonathan Kuminga as the primary defender against Luka at all times, three players whose size and strength are probably the best and only line of defense against one of the best players in the world.
For Dallas, can their stingy defense protect against the most potent offense they’ve seen in a while? Klay Thompson looks the best he’s looked all season, and the emergence of Jordan Poole adds another offensive layer to a fantastic Warriors team. I believe the Mavs will continue to keep Reggie Bullock on Steph Curry and Dorian Finney-Smith on Klay Thompson and force the Warriors role players to beat them.
No team has beaten the Warriors more often in the Luka era (since 2018) than the Mavericks. Including the three wins this year, Dallas is a combined 10-4 in the last four years against Golden State. We all know regular season success doesn’t signify postseason results (hello, Phoenix), but these two teams should make for an exhilarating Western Conference Finals.
The story lines themselves are rich: Steve Kerr’s brilliance, Jordan Poole’s emergence, Klay Thompson’s return, Luka Dončić’s greatness, Jason Kidd’s adaptability, Dallas defense’s improvement. Will Jason Kidd’s continued demand for trust and consistency, along with the domination of Luka Dončić allow Dallas to pull off the upset? Or will Golden State and the Splash Brothers return to glory and make an appearance in the NBA Finals for the sixth time in eight years?
Get ready for some amazing basketball.