SAN FRANCISCO — If we’re trying to be accurate here, there were actually seven takeaways of Luka Doncic in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, which is why the Warriors won in a mini rout, 112-87, and assumed a 1-0 advantage in the series.
But, Doncic’s turnovers aside, here are five takeaways from a game that saw the better team (probably) overtake the best player in the postseason (given the evidence of the past month):
1. Warriors know Luka will learn from this
Doncic was held to his lowest scoring game of these playoffs (and third-lowest of his career), coughed up those seven turnovers (matching his combined total of the previous three games) and had one more turnover than made field goals.
To summarize: Luka looked a little lost. Finally.
He didn’t hurt the Warriors nor did he ever scare them. He was, for the first time this postseason, mostly muted after averaging 32.6 points per game in the West semifinals. However, the Warriors didn’t exactly pop champagne bottles afterward. The only victory they claimed was on the scoreboard.
Golden State knew it didn’t invent the defense needed to slow a superstar. The Warriors just did it better than the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz by mixing up their personnel, pressuring him at halfcourt a few times — even picking up him from full court on occasion — and then held their breath.
“I’ve faced different kind of defenses a lot of times,” Doncic said.
The last time Doncic was this mild, he shot 8-for-24 in the closeout victory over the Jazz. After the Suns watched all the tape of that game and created a plan from it, Luka lit them up for 45 points.
That’s why Warriors coach Steve Kerr wisely expressed caution and perspective: “I think it’s important to try and make him work. Any great player in this league, you’re trying to limit the damage he can do. We pick him up (at half and fullcourt) and have him exert some energy but other teams have done that too. We’re under no illusion that we figured anything out. We’ll stay committed, stay aggressive and see what happens next.”
2. Wiggins puts in some important work
Sometimes the best way to slow a scorer is to force him to exert energy at the other end. Sometimes, a weary playmaker eventually buckles from the load.
The Mavericks knew this, and thought it was safer for Doncic to match against Wiggins instead of Klay Thompson or Jordan Poole … except Wiggins torched that strategy, and Doncic, right from the tip. Wiggins had 15 points by halftime and forced Doncic to scramble defensively and in the second half, he had just one basket. Maybe burning the candle at both ends had an effect.
Wiggins was helpful in multiple ways. He stayed on the attack offensively and eventually took more shots than Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson or Jordan Poole. That’s something Doncic and the Mavs didn’t expect, and it was done for a reason, to force Doncic’s workload. Wiggins also was the primary defender on Doncic and did a credible job.
Two years ago, Thompson would have been the one assigned to Doncic as he was one of the league’s finest in that regard then. But that was two major injuries ago, and fortunately for the Warriors, Wiggins was more than capable of assuming that task.
A few more games like this and Wiggins could shed a reputation for being a rather passive player, which he earned, fairly or not, while losing in Minnesota. Funny how narratives change when you join a contender, make an All-Star team and hold someone like Doncic in check — even for one game.
“I’m enjoying it,” Wiggins said. “We’ve got a chance to do something special … regardless of what the task is or what the challenge is, I’m just going to try my best.”
3. Steph’s quirky playoffs, captured in 1 game
There was a point Wednesday night where Curry missed four consecutive 3-point attempts, had just one basket and clanked three out of five free throws, each one getting a gasp from the crowd, as if they saw a ghost. After all, this is the NBA’s all-time 3-point king and a lifetime 90% free-throw shooter.
And then Curry awakened and went 2017 on the Mavericks, swishing from 30 feet, and began dancing after one especially noisy 3-pointer that pushed Dallas off the cliff.
“I don’t ever lose confidence,” Curry said.
It was a rash reversal that seemed surprising, only if you weren’t paying close attention to Curry’s playoffs so far. Curry shot 74.4% from the free-throw line in the first round, then 89.2% in the semifinals (included a 14-for-14 game). He’s also shot 41.3% overall against Memphis in the semis, a decent rate for some … but not for Curry.
And that’s the point: Curry isn’t having an efficient postseason — for him. Judged on this curve, he’s even a bit perplexing. That said, Curry still demands respect from the defense and carries the same level of confidence. He’ll shoot himself out of a mini-slump before he caves to it.
“The best players all have that knack for turning a bad game into something better,” Kerr said. “When you have that kind of confidence and experience and you’ve been through early struggles and everything, you feel comfortable in that setting.”
4. Mavs can’t connect from deep
Sure, it sounds weird given Golden State’s history and reputation for 3-pointers, but the Mavs probably rely on the 3-pointer just as much (if not more than) the Warriors. After Game 1 of this series, Dallas leads the 2022 playoffs in 3-pointers made (213) and attempted (572), while Golden State isn’t far behind, ranking third makes (167) and attempts (446).
Golden State brings players — Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Jordan Poole, Otto Porter Jr. — who can sink the mid-range shot and also get to the rim. Essentially, they have multiple ways to score if the 3-pointers don’t fall.
The Mavericks, though, lack that luxury. Their personnel is built to orbit Doncic and spread the floor. They took 48 shots from deep Wednesday, 19 more than the Warriors. The problem? Dallas missed 37 of them. That’s a serious issue for a team that’s more inclined to pick-and-pop and puts a premium on shooting, which the Mavericks failed spectacularly at in Game 1.
“We knew what was going to come and we didn’t make shots,” said Mavs coach Jason Kidd. “Luka got into the paint and got looks for guys who usually make them, and they didn’t.
“Can we get those same shots in Game 2? When we go back and look at the open shots we had, we got a lot of them. Just didn’t knock them down.”
The only front-line player with rim tendencies is Dwight Powell and he’s not a volume shooter — the Mavs don’t even call his number. The rest — Maxi Kleber, Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith, Davis Bertans — all shot mostly blanks in Game 1.
This can change from game to game, of course. The Mavs better hope so, because the Warriors, ratings-wise, are tougher than the Suns and Jazz, especially with Draymond Green at the wheel.
5. Warriors might just be the better team
Now, this doesn’t mean the better team wins the series — didn’t the Suns teach us that in the previous round? — but the Warriors are simply built better than the Mavericks. Game 1 showed us why.
The Warriors, arguably, weren’t even at their finest with Curry and Thompson going 1-for-10 early in the game and Poole being largely invisible until the second half. Yet, Golden State still won. Remember, the Warriors can afford Curry or Thompson or Poole to misfire, because two of those scorers will likely pick up the slack and there’s still Wiggins, too.
The Mavericks cannot afford Doncic to struggle, because then the entire offense breaks down. With the exception of Spencer Dinwiddie and Jalen Brunson, the Mavericks lack shot-creators, and Brunson and Dinwiddie are probably playing at their highest level right now.
Then there’s a matter of defense. While the Mavericks managed to frustrate Chris Paul and Devin Booker, Dallas’ defense isn’t on Golden State’s level. The Warriors were top-ranked for much of the season and Green, as you know, is elite.
“We’re super comfortable at this stage,” Curry said. “There’s more gratitude of being back here and more sense of urgency on not letting the opportunity slip away. Who knows how it plays out, but I’m enjoying every bit of this.”
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