SAN FRANCISCO — The Dallas Mavericks aren’t too familiar with the Western Conference finals, having been eliminated in the first round in their last six playoff appearances dating back to 2011-12. So there’s a chance the bright lights of the conference finals — and the experience of an opponent that’s been there and done that — affected the underdog Mavs.
Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors took early control of the series with a statement-making 112-87 Game 1 win at Chase Center on Wednesday night. Curry double-doubled with 21 points and 12 rebounds, and the Warriors shot a blistering 56.1% from the floor. They opened the second half with a 10-2 run to push their lead to 64-47 and begin to put the game out of reach.
“Of course this is going to be tough — it’s the West finals,” said Luka Doncic when asked about the Warriors’ daunting defense. “Like I said (Tuesday), they’re a championship team. They know what this is about. They’ve been through the bad and the good. It’s going to be really tough. But we believe.”
Doncic and the Mavericks are familiar with slow starts to a series, having lost the opener against the Utah Jazz in the first round and falling into an 0-2 hole against the Phoenix Suns in the conference semifinals. However, they overcame both deficits, which is why they are not concerned.
“We’ve always found a way to answer, so we don’t have to look too far but at ourselves of how we’ve gotten better,” said Dallas head coach Jason Kidd. “This is one game. They did their part. Now we’ve got to figure out, again, making shots helps our defense. But give them credit. They were good tonight.”
There’s no denying that. The Mavs can be better, though. Here are two key areas they must address in order to even the series on Friday in Game 2.
Attack the rack on offense
You live by the 3, you die by the 3. It’s an old basketball adage that still carries weight, and it proved to be relevant for Dallas on Wednesday. The Mavericks shot just 36.0% from the floor, their worst mark of the postseason, and managed to make only 22.9% (11 for 48) of their 3-pointers.
Part of that was due to Golden State rotating well on defense and contesting shots. The other part was Dallas’ shots simply not falling.
“I don’t think we’re going to shoot as poorly,” Mavs guard Spencer Dinwiddie said.
He’s probably right because Dallas got a ton of great looks in the first half, and if a few more of those shots go in, it would’ve been a different game. However, 48 of the Mavericks’ 86 field-goal attempts were 3-pointers, which is very 2022. They also only had six shots at the rim.
Starting with Game 2, Dallas needs to play from the inside out. That means Doncic and Jalen Brunson must penetrate the Warriors defense effectively. To do so, the Mavs will need more switches to get more vulnerable defenders, such as Curry or Kevon Looney isolated (although both were stout defensively in Game 1).
Softening the middle of the Warriors defense should be the offensive priority for Kidd and his coaching staff.
Get physical on defense
Defense was a major talking point coming into this series. Golden State and Dallas were tied with the third-best defensive rating (110.5), and the Mavs were surrendering just 104.3 points per game compared to the Warriors’ average of 106.
So what exactly can Dallas do better defensively? Pressure the ball more, be more physical, rebound the ball better … the list goes on.
“As we’ve talked (about) in the playoffs, the team that’s physical tends to find a way to win,” Kidd said. “We have to get back to being physical.”
The Warriors won the rebounding battle 51-35 and had the edge in steals (8-7) and blocks (7-1). The Mavericks must be more active and communicate on defense, as Golden State found holes and took advantage of them. The breakdowns led to easy baskets in the half court, 18 fast-break points and a 67.9% shooting mark on 2-pointers.
“My ideal game is to shoot 70% from there, actually,” joked Golden State head coach Steve Kerr. “But I thought we took what the defense gave us. They did a good job of taking away a lot of our 3s, and a lot of our guys made those mid-rangers that I think you have to make in the playoffs.”
Dallas focused a lot of its attention early on Curry and Klay Thompson, as any team should, but Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole and Looney stepped up offensively in the first half before the Splash Brothers put the game away in the third quarter.
Mavericks forwards Dorian Finney-Smith (minus-22) and Reggie Bullock (minus-27) each had four fouls. They’ll have to set a tougher defensive tone in Game 2 in order for the Mavs to bounce back.