A nine-point Game 3 win in Dallas has staked the Golden State Warriors to a commanding 3-0 lead over the Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals. Tuesday night (9:00pm Eastern; 2:00am UK), again in Dallas, the Warriors look to sweep their way to the NBA Finals.
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The questions persisted all season: How much could the Warriors expect from Klay Thompson, on the heels of two catastrophic injuries (a torn ACL and a torn Achilles tendon) and 941 days away from competitive basketball? Though still defensive genius of the highest order, were Draymond Green’s limitations beginning to overtake his on-court value? Was Steph Curry – now 34 years-old and in Year 13 – entering a new, merely ‘excellent’ twilight phase of his career? And, if so, were the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole willing and able to pick up the necessary slack to keep this team a contender?
At various points in the season, every one of these concerns has been valid.
And then the playoffs began. We’ve since gotten a stark reminder of the value of not only transcendent talent, but the resilience and steely confidence that comes with intimate familiarity with these moments.
In the opening round, the Warriors made short work of now-two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic and the shorthanded Denver Nuggets. In the second round, they ran into a Memphis Grizzlies team that’s something of a funhouse mirror version of themselves: led by seemingly slight but tough-as-nails talismanic lead guard (Ja Morant) and surrounded by a combative supporting cast that gives nothing away in the course of the game. After an intense back and forth series, in which Moran was lost to a bone bruise in his knee, the Warriors put together the veteran performances necessary to put away a young and fiery opponent.
In this round, again, there were questions, this about how the Warriors would contend with Luka Dončić (valid for every team, everywhere) and Jalen Brunson; how they would contend with the pressure from the Mavericks stable of tougher rangy defenders; and, again, whether other perimeter scorers would step up in the event of Steph’s descent into mere excellence.
Again, they’ve answered all the questions. What’s interesting is the variety of ways in which they’ve done it. In Game 1 they ran the Mavs off the floor with a combination of outstanding defense (Luka only had 20 on 18 shots, and the Mavericks only made 36% of their shots, including a ghastly 11-of-48 3-pointers) while seven Warriors scored in double figures, with three – Curry, Wiggins and Poole – scored between 19 and 21. In Game 2, again at home, the Warriors fell behind by 20 points and leaned on a combination of a vintage Steph performance (32 points and six made 3-pointers), a phenomenal secondary showing from Poole (23 points on 10 shots), excellent defense from Wiggins (particularly on Luka), a great all-around performance off the bench from Otto Porter Jr. and the literal best game of Kevon Looney’s NBA career to stave off an offensive barrage from Dončić, Brunson and Reggie Bullock, who combined for 94 points on just 53 shots and made 16 of 27 3-pointers.
In Game 3 in Dallas, it was Dončić, Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie combining for 86 points… only to be outdone by more outstanding Warriors defense (Dallas shot just 40% for the game, and made just 13-of-45 3-pointers) and phenomenal offensive showings from Curry (31 points and 11 assists) and Wiggins (27, 11 rebounds and a massive dunk over Luka) and another rock solid nine-point, 12-rebound showing from Looney.
The story for the Mavericks is an exceedingly simple one: they need competence from more than three guys on a given night. Sure, what they’ve gotten each of the last two games from Luka, Brunson and Bullock/Dinwiddie far exceeds simple ‘competence’ but, out of their top three in each game, only one other Maverick has scored more than six points – Dorian Finney-Smith, who had 10 points in Game 2 and nine in Game 3.
For as great as Luka is, and for the monumental leap that Jalen Brunson has taken, and the capabilities of Bullock and Dinwiddie to turn in a huge performance on any given night, the Mavericks are going to need something, anything from a fourth (or even fifth) guys – someone in the frontcourt stepping up would probably be nice – if they’re going to take even a single game off of a Warriors team that can once again smell a championship.
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)
Mavericks predicted starting lineup: Luka Dončić, Jalen Brunson, Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell
Notable injuries: Tim Hardaway Jr. (foot; out)
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Over the last two games, the Mavericks’ offensive limitations and lack of depth have been laid bare. That’s to say nothing of the sense they seem to simply be running out of gas. Meanwhile, the battle-tested Warriors – now a single victory away from their sixth NBA Finals appearance of the Steph Curry era – are eyeing some pre-Finals rest while the Celtics and Heat punish each other in the Eastern Conference Finals. Sure, a 3-0 advantage – which has never been overturned in NBA history – provides a sizable margin for error – but it’s one the Warriors will be eager to use precisely none of.
Otto Porter’s foot injury (he left Game 3 after playing just seven minutes, and didn’t return) poses something of a concern, and could limit the ‘Dubs’’ veteran bench savvy in Game 4. However, with the like of Juan Toscano-Anderson and Jonathan Kuminga available, head coach Steve Kerr still has more than enough length on the perimeter to constantly throw different defensive looks at Luka to tire him out limit his offensive efficiency, and bet that the other Mavericks can’t do enough to actually win a game.