Preview: Warriors, Mavs come full circle
Western Conference Finals, here we go!
The hole that Dirk Nowitzki punched into the wall of Oracle Arena with a thrown chair sits, framed somewhere in the bowels of Chase Arena now. A powerful totem that the Golden State Warriors thought enough of to cut out and move it with the franchise when they left Oakland behind. Though there’s no one left playing from that era, both teams will always have a very personal connection because of the We Believe team’s historic beatdown of the #1 ranked Dallas Mavericks.
Andre Iguodala (and of course Gary Payton) aren’t yet available, but the big injury news ahead of game one is that Otto Porter has received full clearance and will be available. He’s been one of the Warriors’ most impactful players in limited minutes so far in this post season; having him back in the fold is a huge boost for Golden State.
WHO: Golden State Warriors vs. Dallas Mavericks
WHEN: Wednesday, May 18, 2022 // 6pm PDT
The other side of We Believe
The Golden State Warriors have come full circle. No longer the young upstart team with some top end talent and a ton of synergy, they’re the old dogs. The wily vets. But Luka Doncic is coming. His stat line in these playoffs is absurd: 32 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists per game, on a downright silly TS% of .587. I’m not quite ready to ordain him as the next LeBron, but there’s an undeniable gravitas to Doncic.
Like Dirk’s old Mavericks, the Golden State team is primarily driven by the excellence of their veterans. Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, and Draymond Green are the old heads of the league. The championship core with plenty to prove still. They’ve reassembled like Voltron, but this is an older crew, far less certain… far more dangerous than those younger squads. This Golden State team is like the old battle scarred warriors in dented plate armor — maybe not as fleet as foot as they once were, but there’s piles of defeated enemies at their feet and an ominous aura.
But I’m not going to cloud the waters here for you, DNHQ. The Warriors are the favorites here, and if they play their game right, should be able to handle the Mavericks.
What to worry about
Luka will be the engine. Golden State has plenty of experience slowing down players like this, but this one is going to be a bit different. Like Harden’s Rockets, the Mavericks are a spammy team. Relying heavily on the pick and roll, they had the league’s second-best offense during the regular season. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. They had the 6th stingiest defense over the course of the season — which is actually more impressive than it looks considering they were attempting to play Kristaps Porzingas for much of the season.
Much like the Warriors’ model, it’s the combo that is the real killer. With a potent defense, and an offense that can grind the will out of you, this Dallas team is for real.
Beyond the baseline of force fed Doncic pick-and-rolls, the Mavericks are also undergoing a bit of a renaissance from behind the arc. The most prevalent one is Spencer Dinwiddie, who averaged 22.5 points on crazy 72% from the field and 71 percent from deep over the last two games. If he’s going to shoot like that, it’s going to be a real problem.
On the Golden State side, they’ll be fighting to get free from the defense that just shut down the Phoenix Suns. As Anthony Slater wrote:
The Suns were an offensive machine. They just scored 27 first-half points and watched their season end in blowout fashion on their home floor. Dončić was the offensive hero. But it was Dallas’ collective defensive effort that strangled Phoenix’s dream season.
The Mavericks finished with a 109.1 defensive rating this season, seventh stingiest in the NBA. Once the calendar turned to 2022, they were fourth-best. There were patches of the season where they were the best.
When the Warriors have looked their worst this season, it is the offense that tends to dry out. With a known penchant for taking the opponent’s biggest threat out of the equation, Dallas is going to challenge Curry and the Warriors in a way they haven’t seen yet in the post season.
At 114.2 points per 100 possessions, Golden State has the strongest offense so far in the playoffs right now. At this point in his career, Curry is extremely familiar with the attention, especially under the bright light of a tense playoff environment with high stakes. Ever since the Cavs, — hell…. since the Los Angeles Clippers really — the book has been the same on the Golden State: take Curry out of the equation and live with the rest.
The Mavericks held Phoenix to its three lowest-scoring games, regular season included, in the series: 103-94 in Game 3, 113-86 in Game 6 and 123-90 in Game 7.
But the battle has been constantly evolving. First, it took David Lee coming back from injury to show Green how to be the relief valve for Curry. That counter worked well enough, but still crumbles if Green doesn’t shoot the ball. In the closeout game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Green took a season high 14 shot attempts. It’s not so much that he needs to pour in the points efficiently — just the meaningful rim pressure to force the defensive rotations to defend the paint so that he can either score or (more likely) find an open shooter.
Now, we normally don’t talk about it in basketball discussions, but I think a lot of this series is going to come down to random shot variation. If this series is a slow, low turnover event, I’ll be surprised, but that’s definitely what Dallas wants.
The Mavericks play slow, as much as being pass happy is a hallmark of coach Steve Kerr’s offense, so too will the Mavs do everything in their power to grind the pace down to something that would make Don Nelson pull his hair out. Jordan Poole is the secondary ball handling shot creator that might be the key to unlocking this series. Quick enough to blow by his initial defender, and a willing passer that has become adept at the relocation three, if his outside shot is on, then I think Dallas will struggle to slow the Warriors.
Another salient feature of the Mavs offense is that the team adores the pick-and-roll. And just like Curry had to learn in those early matchups against the Cavaliers, Poole is going to have to figure out a way to stay on the court in the face of an opponent that is going to mercilessly hound him by forcing him into defensive actions defending Doncic pick-and-rolls. If Poole’s hitting his shots, it’s hard to imagine the Mavericks coming out ahead on this transaction, but if he hits a cold streak from outside, or can’t stay out of foul trouble it will take away one of the team’s best secondary options against teams over-defending on Curry.
I’m going Warriors in six.
I know the Mavericks are a stout defensive team, but there are some personnel issues that could give them fits. This is also an experienced Warriors team (mostly) and coaching staff that is all too familiar with game planning against teams like the Mavs. Coach Kerr compared them to the James Harden Rockets, but I think Dallas is just as comparable to those old Cavs teams that featured heavy doses of star LeBron James endlessly hunting via high pick-and-rolls.