In what may have been the final game of the season their home court, the Mavericks ran the Golden State Warriors off the floor with stellar performances at both ends. The Western Conference Finals shift back to San Francisco Thursday night (9:00pm Eastern; 2:00am UK), where the Warriors will be eager to capitalize on the second of four chances to close out the series, and avoid a return trip to Texas.
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The Mavericks showed in the Game 4 the formula that, if present (or at least somewhat consistent) in Games 1 through 3, would have dramatically altered the trajectory of these Western Conference Finals: length and versatility on switches to disrupt the Warriors’ perimeter threats and… having multiple non-Luka/Brunsons making shots.
I know. It’s almost insultingly simplistic but, if the Mavericks were ever going to win this series, or – sorry, to bring this up, Warriors fans – if they’re to have any hope of making things any more interesting from here, that’s what it’s going to take.
Prior to Game 4, we talked about the monumental failures in Games 2 and 3 of the Mavericks’ supporting cast to provide anything in the way of offensive support for their backcourt stars. To refresh your memory, the money shot here was that, outside of the Mavs’ top three scorers in those two games (Dončić, Jalen Brunson and Reggie Bullock/ Spencer Dinwiddie), only Dorian Finney-Smith, with 10 points in Game 2 and nine in Game 3, had managed more than six points in either game.
That all changed in Game 4, as the Mavs – Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber and Frank Ntilikina in particular – held Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole into 56 points on 40 shots through three quarters, at which point Dallas led by 29 points.
Of course, as impressively as the Mavs hounded and harried the Warriors’ shooters, more noteworthy was their ability to bury jumpers of their own from the outside. This is doubly true when considering that neither Luka (who still had an outstanding 30-points, 14-rebound, 9-assists stat line) and Brunson combined to make just 15 of 38 shots (and just four of 13 3-pointers) en route to a relatively underwhelming (Luka’s rally-killing dunk aside) 45 points.
At long last, multiple members of the supporting cast did his bit. Finney-Smith led the way, with 23 points on just 13 shots (and 4-of-7 on 3-points), but Bullock was also outstanding, with 18 points – on 6-of-10 shooting, all from 3-point range. Meanwhile, off the bench, Dinwiddie and Kleber also delivered, with a combined 23 points on 13 shots (4-of-9 on 3’s), 11 rebounds, 10 assists and three blocked shots.
From the Warriors perspective, there’s only so much to tweak and adjust. The core is the core, and the game plan remains as it was. A totally reasonable reading of Game 4 is that, in a league in which anyone is capable of beating anyone on a given night, defeating a conference finalist that’s led by a frontline superstar, on its home floor, battling not only to stay alive for one more day but avoid the ignominy of a sweep is an extremely difficult ask.
Looking ahead to Game 5 back in San Francisco, there are a few reasonable assumptions that we can make: the Warriors’ role players should be expected to play with greater confidence and comfort on their home floor. Conversely, the Maverick supporting cast – which only just turned its first comprehensive performance of the series – is unlikely to replicate its 16-for-30 Game 4 outburst away from home and in a hostile environment. Also, irrespective of where the game is played, holding the Warriors in check as the Mavs did in Game 4 twice in a row is an incredibly tall order.
On the flip side, for a couple of reasons, there should be a certain level of urgency for the Warriors to close this series out on Thursday, First, a win here no longer represent an especially early conclusion to this series (which would have offered the Warriors some valuable time for rest and preparation), as the Celtics, having pulled ahead of the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, are going home for Game 6, looking unquestioned stronger of the two sides. Also – and this is, admittedly, a little bit alarmist – a loss in Game 5 at home necessitate a return to Dallas for a Game 6… which could quickly give way dueling nightmares of the Mavs’ destruction of the Suns in a Game 7 away from home and, of course, LeBron, Kyrie and the 2016 Finals.
Mavericks predicted starting lineup: Luka Dončić, Jalen Brunson, Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell
Notable injuries: Tim Hardaway Jr. (foot; out)
Warriors predicted starting lineup: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Wiggins, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney
Notable injuries: Otto Porter, Jr. (foot; questionable); Andre Iguodala (neck; out); James Wiseman (knee; out); Gary Payton II (elbow; out)
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Prior to Game 4, I deferred, quite aggressively, to the Warriors’ incredible experience and battle-tested championship pedigree. That, in one of the toughest scenarios imaginable for a team in command of a series, they were blitzed by a superstar-led squad looking to avoid the embarrassment of a sweep, whose supporting players were completely locked in, is no indictment of any of the qualities we attribute to them. Nor, of course, does it diminish the incredible amount of talent that resides on this roster.
Back home in San Francisco, in front of what is sure to be an electric crowd, it’s tough to imagine this group squandering another opportunity to end this series. This has the feel of a game in which the Warriors deliver a knockout blow in one of the first three quarters, definitively knock a valiant Mavericks team that’s at times looked exhausted back on their heels.
If ever a stage was perfectly set for a comfortable Warriors win, powered by a vintage Steph Curry performance that turns the whole thing into a big party, this is it.