DALLAS — Through the first three games of the Western Conference finals, the Warriors were thoroughly winning the defensive battle against the Mavericks. Through a combination of looks, which included a hedge-and-recover man scheme, a little switching, some box-and-one and a good deal of zone, Golden State held Dallas to a 106.3 offensive rating from Games 1 to 3, an elite mark. Leave it to Mavs coach Jason Kidd to turn those schemes into a positive:
“The biggest compliment we’ve gotten is that they have to play zone because they can’t guard us 1-on-1.”
Dallas was finally able to take advantage of the Warriors on Tuesday, recording their first win of the series as it heads back to the Bay with the Dubs still up 3–1. The Mavs’ 119–109 win in Game 4 came on the strength of their outside shooting, as their threes finally started to drop like the rain through the leaky roof of Dallas’s arena. After shooting only 32.6% on threes in the first three contests, the Mavs connected on 20-of-43 Tuesday night, good for 46.5%. For an example of how stark the turnaround was, in Game 3 Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith combined to shoot 2-of-12 from deep. In Game 4, they shot 10-of-17.
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As Finney-Smith put it after the game: “If we were going to lose today, I wanted to go out shooting.”
Threes have been a hallmark of Dallas’s playoff run. The attention paid to Luka Dončić often creates looks on the outside for the Mavs’ supporting cast. The Warriors have been generally reluctant to give Luka the switches he wants in this series, and that reluctance, plus the incorporation of zone looks, can put the defense in constant rotations. In their postseason wins, the Mavs are shooting 40.8% on 42 threes a game. In their losses they shoot only 33.7% on 40.8 attempts per game. Of all the teams left in the playoffs, Dallas has the best three-point percentage in wins, as well the highest number of attempts per game.
After the game, Steve Kerr lamented his team’s performance, saying they were not alert or sharp defensively. The Mavs’ offense—thanks to Luka—commands constant focus, not unlike the Warriors’ relentless motion. Golden State has been mixing in so many coverages that throughout much of the game assistant coach Mike Brown is off the bench yelling out assignments as Dallas takes the ball up the floor. Even momentary lapses in communication can lead to an easy three for the Mavericks.
On the other end of the floor, Golden State appeared lethargic. The Warriors weren’t able to mount much offense until the fourth quarter. The Dubs trailed by as many as 29 points in the second half, until a bench unit cut the lead to only eight points in the fourth quarter. The final score made the game look more competitive than it was. The Mavs had clearly taken their foot off the gas, and when Golden State’s starters checked back in with only a few minutes to go, they never quite seriously threatened to make things interesting.
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Of course, more important, the game took place only hours after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a little over 350 miles from the arena. Both coaches spoke about the tragedy before the game. Kidd read a prepared statement and declined to answer a basketball question, saying he was not able to given the circumstances, his voice soft as he tried to gather his thoughts. Following Kidd, Kerr gave an impassioned speech that lasted nearly three minutes. He took no questions and pounded the table as he called on Congress to do more to combat gun violence.
“I’m tired. I’m so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families that are out there. I’m so tired of the excuses. I’m tired of the moments of silence. Enough,” Kerr said, adding, “All you senators who refuse to do anything about the violence in school shootings and supermarket shootings, I ask you, ‘Are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of the lives of our children and our elderly and our churchgoers?’ Because that’s what it looks like.”
Kerr, his emotion palpable, called the lack of action ”pathetic” before saying, “I’ve had enough,” and quickly exiting his press conference.
Stephen Curry said after the game he appreciated Kerr’s leadership, adding the shooting “was on everybody’s mind coming into the game.” He shared Kerr’s speech to his Twitter account before tip-off, writing, “Watch this as much as you watch the game tonight.”
While both teams performed professionally, it was hard not for Game 4 to feel especially trivial in light of the horrific event. Perhaps the most impactful thing that happened on the court Tuesday came nearly an hour after the game had ended, with nobody left in the stands: Draymond Green, all smiles as he walked with his family in the middle of the mostly empty gym, his kids on each side.
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