9:00 PM EST, TNT – Line: Mavericks -1, Over/Under: 215.5
As one team attempts to stave off elimination another looks to take care of their business, as the surging Golden State Warriors prepare to close out the Dallas Mavericks in Game Four of this Western Conference Final from American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. After two years spent navigating the proverbial wilderness, the Warriors (53-29, 3rd in Western Conference) find themselves one game away from returning to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2019, when their five-year dynasty was placed on hold. Indeed, it’s been a remarkable story as to how Golden State has managed to reshape themselves throughout that two-year drought, with (Head Coach) Steve Kerr and (General Manager) Bob Meyers doing a tremendous job of identifying and developing talent in the wake of catastrophic injuries to their franchise players. (All-Star sharpshooter) Klay Thompson (20.4 PTS, 42.9% FG, 38.5% 3FG, 90.2% FT, 3.9 REB, 2.8 AST, 0.5 STL, 16.7 PER) missed over two full seasons due to ACL and Achilles tears, while (two-time MVP) Steph Curry (25.5 PTS, 43.7% FG, 38.0% 3FG, 92.3% FT, 5.2 REB, 6.3 AST, 1.3 STL, 21.4 PER) missed most of the 2019-2020 campaign with a broken bone in his right hand. During this period, the Dubs floundered to a 54-83 record (.394), missing the playoffs on both occasions, which needless to say was in stark contrast to advancing each of the previous FIVE NBA Finals and capturing THREE Larry O’Brien trophies. Rather than sit back and feel sorry for themselves, Kerr and Meyers spent those two years rebuilding the infrastructure atop the foundation of Curry and Thompson and have been reaping the rewards of their labor throughout this postseason. Sure, the Splash Brothers have been integral to their success over the last six weeks, what with Curry averaging 27.1 points on 45.9% shooting and 38.4% from beyond the arc, along with 5.1 rebounds and 5.9 assists, while Thompson has added 19.5 points on 45.3% shooting and 38.8% from downtown, 4.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists, but it’s hard to see the Warriors reaching this point without the help of a renovated supporting cast that has seen many of their number offer significant contributions. First and foremost, there is (unheralded Guard) Jordan Poole (18.5 PTS, 44.8% FG, 36.4% 3FG, 92.5% FT, 3.4 REB, 4.0 AST, 0.8 STL, 16.1 PER), who has gone from the G-League to essentially becoming the “Fifth Beetle” in a short period of time, logging 18.9 points on 52.3% shooting from the field, including 39.5% from three, 3.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists in these playoffs. The youngster was indispensable while Kerr was bringing Curry (fresh off a foot injury) off the bench in the first round against the Nuggets, torching Denver for 28.7 points on a torrid 66.7% shooting in the first three games of that series. And then there is the often-overlooked Kevon Looney (6.0 PTS, 57.1% FG, 60.0% FT, 7.3 REB, 2.0 AST, 0.6 STL, 0.6 BLK, 15.7 PER), who continues to selflessly do whatever is asked of him; the veteran Center played sparingly in this postseason until the Western Finals, where his size and length have been an absolute asset against the smaller Mavericks, posting averages of 13.3 points on 78.3% shooting, 9.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists, including a career-high twenty-one points in Golden State’s comeback 126-117 victory in Game Two. Last, but surely not least, is (veteran Swingmen) Andrew Wiggins (17.2 PTS, 46.6% FG, 39.3% 3FG, 63.4% FT, 4.5 REB, 2.2 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.7 BLK, 15.0 PER), who has proven to be the x-factor against Dallas. Once upon a time, Wiggins was the top-ranked recruit in the country, and after spending one season at Kansas was selected No. One Overall by the Cavaliers in the 2014 NBA Draft. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t spend much time in Cleveland, who shipped him to Minnesota in exchange for Kevin Love, where the athletic Guard would spend the first five and a half seasons of his career. Though he never came close to living up to that billing in Minneapolis, the talent was always there, leading Kerr and Meyers to swing a deal for Wiggins midway through the 2019-2020 campaign. With Curry and Thompson both on the mend and the team mired in their worst run of form in a decade, this trade went largely under the radar, but as we’ve seen now has paid MAJOR dividends. Going from being the top offensive threat for a bumbling franchise while in your early twenties, to being the third to fourth option on perennial champion while at the age of twenty-six has been precisely what the doctor ordered for Wiggins, who has done nothing but flourish within Kerr’s system and the club’s championship culture. A career 33.2% shooter from the perimeter in Minnesota, the 26-year-old has netted a career-high 39.3% on his attempts from deep in lieu of being selected to his first All-Star team. That success has followed him into his first playoff run, particularly in this series against Dallas where he has been a driving force on both ends of the hardwood, averaging 20.7 points on 47.1% shooting and 38.9% from three, along with 7.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists, all the while spending a wealth of time defending Luka Doncic (more on him shortly). In Sunday night’s 109-100 victory in Northern Texas, Wiggins erupted for a career playoff high twenty-seven points on 11-of-20 shooting (55.0%), along with eleven rebounds and three assists, though nothing could compare to his furious dunk over Doncic; receiving the pass at the top of the key, the lithe swingman glided into the paint and over the helpless Slovenian international, who appeared to feign contact as he attempted to get out of the way. The officials initially called an offensive foul on Wiggins, but after further review reversed their decision on a play that is sure to be on a poster, shirt, billboard, etc. soon. In the end, the Warriors shot 46.9% from the field, including 11-of-32 from deep (34.4%), and 22-of-25 from the charity stripe (88.0%), while dishing out twenty-eight assists in comparison to committing just ten turnovers. Curry led the team with thirty-one points on 10-of-20 shooting (50.0%), with half of those makes coming from the perimeter (5-of-10), along with five rebounds and eleven assists. Thompson chipped in with nineteen points but managed that on just 6-of-18 shooting (33.3%), while (versatile Forward) Draymond Green (7.5 PTS, 52.5% FG, 29.6% 3FG, 65.9% FT, 7.3 REB, 7.0 AST, 11.3 STL, 1.1 BLK, 14.3 PER) offered another well-rounded affair with ten points, five rebounds, five assists, a pair of steals, and a block. As for Poole and Looney, they combined for nineteen points and seventeen rebounds. As they have throughout the series, the Dubs dominated the Mavs in the paint, outscoring them 46-34, bringing the disparity between the two teams to FIFTY-SIX points, or in other words, 18.7 points per game. Ahead of tonight’s affair, it would behoove Golden State to take care of their business, particularly given what has transpired back East, where Miami/Boston is now guaranteed to go a minimum of six games. Injuries were a steady theme for the Warriors throughout the campaign, so getting as much rest as possible in lieu of the Finals is in the best interest for everyone. With that said, despite owning a stellar 20-9 in closeout games under Kerr’s watch, they’re 6-4 when they have the opportunity to sweep an opponent, losing each of their last two tries.
Meanwhile, it appears that the resilience that had defined the Mavericks (52-30, 4th in Western Conference) playoff run up to this point has finally dissipated, as they now find themselves staring down the barrel of a four-game sweep for the first time since 2012. After all, this is the same team that overcame playing without (All-NBA Guard) Luka Doncic (28.4 PTS, 45.7% FG, 35.3% 3FG, 74.4%, 9.1 REB, 8.7 AST, 1.2 STL, 0.6 BLK, 25.1 PER) for the first three games of their opening round battle with the Jazz, and rallied back from an 0-2 deficit against the top-seeded Suns to stun the basketball world with the largest road win in a Game Seven in NBA history (123-90). Unfortunately, Dallas has run into a proverbial brick wall in the form of Golden State, who have had an answer for everything that they’ve managed to do to them. So, what in the name of Don Nelson has happened to the Mavs, you ask? Well, this series has served as nothing more than a hard dose of reality for a group, while vastly improved, isn’t a legitimate contender… yet. Let’s start with Doncic, shall we? The 23-year-old has been dominant in this postseason, averaging 32.1 points on 47.0% shooting from the field, including 36.3% from beyond the arc, 9.5 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.8 steals, while authoring back-to-back 40-point outbursts in the last two games of this Western Conference Final. However, the Warriors have exploited the few weaknesses in his game, particularly on the defensive end, where they’ve ruthlessly hunted him in an attempt to make him work both ways. To this end, the young maestro must work his body into better shape during the offseason, for there have been times, particularly in the fourth quarter, in which fatigue has been a serious issue. One of the first things that (Head Coach) Jason Kidd implemented when he arrived last summer, was a slower style of play that essentially ensured that the Slovenian would be in control of the basketball through the majority of any game. While that gameplan has been largely successful, it’s still had its drawbacks; with Doncic walking the ball up the hardwood, Dallas is painfully predictable, while starting their offense too late in the shot clock, which is akin to fighting with one hand behind your back against better defensive teams. And sticking with that predictability problem, they’ve been precisely that on the offensive end, where their three-point shooting continues to make or break them; in their eight wins in these playoffs, they shot 46.9% from the field and 40.7% from downtown, outscoring their opponents by a margin of 195 points (24.3 P/G), but in their eight losses they’ve shot just 41.9% overall and 33.7% from deep, with that disparity dropping precipitously to sixty-six points (8.2 P/G). In what has long been characterized as a make-or-miss league, Kidd’s troops have lived and died by that approach, and it’s unfortunate that they’ve been doing much more of the latter in this series. After drilling 21-of-45 triples in Game Two (46.7%), they fell back down to Earth with 13-of-45 shooting on Sunday night (28.9%), which only exposed more of their weaknesses. Utilizing this five-and-out approach has killed them in the paint (-56) and on the glass (-43) in this series, with their lack of size being exploited by the much larger Warriors. And this is where the supporting cast comes into the equation. Sure, (emerging Guard) Jalen Brunson (16.3 PTS, 50.2% FG, 37.3% 3FG, 84.0% FT, 3.9 REB, 4.8 AST, 0.8 STL, 17.1 PER) has been essential to their success in this postseason, particularly while Doncic was sidelined, and (veteran Guard) Spencer Dinwiddie (15.8 PTS, 49.8% FG, 40.4% 3FG, 72.5% FT, 3.1 REB, 3.9 AST, 0.7 STL, 19.0 PER) has been a revelation since arriving midseason via trade with the Wizards, but it just hasn’t been enough in this affair. After all, what good are shooters when they aren’t knocking down open shots? Case in point: (veteran sharpshooter) Reggie Bullock (8.6 PTS, 40.1% FG, 36.0% 3FG, 83.3% FT, 3.5 REB, 1.2 AST, 0.6 STL, 9.2 PER) caught fire with twenty-one points on 6-of-11 shooting (54.5%) and 6-of-10 from three (60.0%) in Game Two, only to crash back to reality with ZERO points on 0-of-11 shooting and 0-of-7 in Game Three. Apart from Doncic, the only guy who is going to create for himself and others in Dinwiddie, and that’s been a real problem against Golden State, particularly when so many members of their supporting cast are playing so well. And that’s how they’ve found themselves staring at a sweep, and even if they manage to avoid that unsavory result, there is still the most damnable statistic of the playoffs: teams that fall behind 0-3 in a best-of-seven series have NEVER come back to win said series, failing in all of 146 attempts. As they face elimination tonight, one can’t help but look ahead for a franchise that despite making a significant leap forward, still has plenty of room for improvement. We touched upon Doncic and his conditioning, but the most notable weakness to be addressed is their lack of size. This team needs a legitimate big man, who can at the very least defend the rim and paint, while offering a scoring option either in the post, or as a rim runner in the pick and roll. There have been rumors in the Mavs’ interest in a potential trade for (three-time Defensive Player of the Year) Rudy Gobert, while perhaps exploring the idea of signing (Suns Center) Deandre Ayton in Free Agency. Both big men would address the deficiencies on the defensive end of the court, while serving as the ideal pick and roll partner with Doncic, while Kidd & Co saw plenty of both players in the playoffs thus far. Either way, the future appears to be bright in Northern Texas, no matter the outcome of tonight’s affair.