SAN FRANCISCO — The Golden State Warriors haven’t reached the NBA Finals since 2019 and actually spent the previous two seasons in purgatory, pushed there by major injuries to important players.
The Dallas Mavericks and their young superstar, Luka Doncic, finally made the conference finals together and are factually positioned to mimic the Dirk Nowitzki 2011 Mavs, even if that might seem a bit of a reach by a current Dallas team playing with house money at this point.
Therefore, the Warriors and Mavs look to change the status of the West finals, Golden State by holding home court through two games, Dallas by tying up the series and inviting suspense.
Much depends on the impact (or lack of it) by one player: Doncic. He carries that much weight in the fortunes of the Mavericks and the success of the Warriors.
1. Warriors won’t change what works
Sometimes you can overthink a situation when the solution is sitting right before you. Therefore, the Warriors are inclined to stick with the Game 1 defensive game plan until Doncic and the Mavericks solve the code.
Why should Warriors coach Steve Kerr suddenly switch to Draymond Green as the first line of defense on Doncic instead of Andrew Wiggins, for example, in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the chess game?
Instead, the Warriors will simply roll with this strategy of Wiggins being a pest until forced to do otherwise. That’s what Kerr seemed to hint at on the eve of Game 2, mainly because he was thrilled with what he saw, which he described as “excellent” from Wiggins and the teammates who chipped in.
Here’s another reason to run it back: Wiggins is feeling useful. He’s a player who, until now, never played a real meaningful stretch of games in his NBA life, and also took the “overrated” and “overpaid” abuse for years while toiling in Minnesota. No need to gamble with his confidence now by pulling him and indirectly expressing doubt about his ability to keep his foot on the gas.
“I’m locked in,” he said. “I’m motivated, and when you see it work or I feel like it’s helping us play better, it just motivates me to do it more. I’m not tired or nothing. You know, it’s adrenaline. I just feel good.”
Kerr said it’s natural for him and his staff “to have those discussions” about making adjustments after a very successful win, when the weight of adjustments fall on the other team. But it helps to have Green around should any emergency or breakdown arise.
“Draymond sets the tone for us, and has for a long time,” Kerr said. “It starts with him.”
2. Jason Kidd: We good
Kidd had a short and to-the-point answer about his wishes and desires for Game 2.
“Just make the shots,” he said. “We had good looks. We had open looks. We just missed them. That’s all. We make those shots, it’s a different situation.”
The entire population of Arizona must wonder why the Mavs chose now to lay those eggs. How many times did Dorian Finney-Smith connect from the deep corner against Phoenix? And Maxi Kleber off the screen and roll from the top of the arch? And Spencer Dinwiddie off the dribble? Where did it all go in Game 1?
Again, it’s a small sample size, and narratives can flip in a hurry, and in a make-or-miss league nothing always stays the same from one night to the next.
“I have confidence in our guys,” said Luka.
While on the subject of floor spacing and 3-point taking: whatever happened to Davis Bertans? Just three seasons ago, he was an important role player with the San Antonio Spurs, and two seasons ago was among the league’s 3-point percentage leaders and he skipped the 2020 bubble in order to avoid any injury entering free agency. The Washington Wizards played along and gave him $16 million a season, only to see him subsequently nosedive and become unplayable because, if those 3s aren’t falling, he offers little else.
He was packaged with Dinwiddie in the trade for Kristaps Porzingis, and while Dinwiddie certainly has been a welcome arrival, Bertans shot just 15% from deep in the first round against the Jazz. In his last three games, he’s 0-for-7. And he’s on the bench, getting just 10 minutes a night in the playoffs.
Bertans would solve a lot of issues if he’d simply do what he should be doing: Making open shots. But with the exception of a handful of regular season games, he remains a perplexing player.
3. Wait: Draymond can score?
It’s sometimes confusing to see Green pass up so many shots almost on a nightly basis, even if he’s unguarded, even if he has a clear path to the rim. On one hand, he is blessed with teammates like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and now, Jordan Poole, orbiting around him. On the other hand, what’s the deal?
Green says he’ll pick and choose his chances more aggressively, and the Warriors saw some of that Wednesday when he shot 4-for-6. So expect him to seize the advantage of being completely ignored (and therefore disrespected) by the Mavericks and maybe crack double figures in shot attempts for a change.
There was a telling moment when he took the ball himself, made the basket, fell to the floor and muscle-flexed. This was a rare offensive celebration by a player who’s more inclined to whip the ball around the perimeter and play give-and-go with Curry and yield to a player (Poole) who lacks the championship pedigree of Curry and Thompson, not to mention Wiggins.
“His offensive input kind of gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list, sometimes too much,” Curry said.
Another reason Green might take a few more shots: Dallas doesn’t offer much in terms of bigs. There’s no rim-protector waiting to stop Green or anyone else, and he could use his size to his advantage when Dallas sticks a guard on him. The defense is giving him the lane and daring him to reach the rim or take open mid-range shots.
Draymond, averaging less than 10 points a game for his career, usually doesn’t bite — why take shots away from better shooters? — but this series might be different.
4. Otto Porter Jr. is on Otto-pilot
The Warriors are a wealth of depth. This happens when you get Draft picks for missing the playoffs the last two seasons and also one for taking on Wiggins’ contract. And also because sometimes, you land a veteran who just wants to be a part of a title-contender.
Porter signed with the Warriors last August, and here’s the good part: he cost the veteran’s minimum. This was possible because Porter already made his cash in 2017, when the Wizards matched a four-year, $106 million offer he received from the Brooklyn Nets. At the time, Porter was one of the league’s better 3-point shooters, but that percentage took a dive almost immediately. Instead of being the future of the Wizards, he was traded to the Bulls in 2021 for mostly spare parts.
So money wasn’t the biggest issue, and with the Warriors and next to Curry and Thompson, Porter could play without burden. You almost forget he’s only 28. Curry calls him the best mid-range shooter on the team, high praise indeed, and he’s one of those players who’ll get open looks against the Mavericks when Kerr plays three or more shooters at the same time. He came off the bench to score in double figures three of the last four games.
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