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Mavs vs. Warriors Game 3: 3 Big Keys to Watch

The Dallas Mavericks seek to avoid falling down 3-0 in their series against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Here's what we're looking for in Game 3.

DALLAS - The Dallas Mavericks will look to bounce back in Game 3 after their 126-117 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 2. With the possibility of trailing 3-0 in the series in the Western Conference Finals, the Mavericks have little-to-no margin for error to turn things around. 

Luka Doncic had 42 points and eight assists in Game 2 after being contained to an underwhelming 20-point outing to begin the series. They even received 31 points and five dimes from Jalen Brunson and 21 points from Reggie Bullock. Dallas even led by as many as 19 points, but things fell apart in a hurry after halftime. 

Luka Doncic, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors

The Mavericks have shown they can recover from a struggling start to a series. They trailed 2-0 in their Western Conference semifinals series against the Phoenix Suns, with a similar Game 2 collapse being the cause. They still managed to rally back and win in seven games. 

It's become clear, however, that the Warriors are a better-equipped playoff team than the Suns. The Mavericks seemingly have to get off to a strong start and find ways to sustain their execution without having a letdown of a quarter. 

As Game 3 gets ready to tip-off at 8 p.m. CT on Sunday night at American Airlines Center, here are some of the biggest keys to watch for:

3. Paint Scoring Differential

When there is praise for a player of Kevon Looney's caliber scoring over the 20-point threshold and reaching career-highs, the issue tends to lie in how the defense is unable to be in a position to finish plays. 

Overall, it was a struggle for the Mavericks to stay in front of dribble penetration and to contain off-ball activity. They allowed 62 points in the paint in Game 2 while scoring just 30 of their own. In the third quarter, in particular, Dallas had six compared to Golden State's 18. 

The Warriors have too many dynamic shooting threats that require being tightly engaged out on the perimeter for there to not be highly energetic and attentive help rotations being made. Losing at the point of attack is going to happen, but do the Mavericks have enough energy for a full 48 minutes of scrambling?

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The Mavericks' formula offensively has been to put up a lot of 3s and let Luka Doncic and Jalen Brunson go to work with the basketball in their hands. Golden State is overloading in help to prevent them from getting a switch and attacking the paint enough. Can the coaching staff adjust?

Each of these questions will be important in Game 3. Time is running out for the Mavericks to figure it out as they face the possibility of a 3-0 series deficit — a mark no team has ever recovered from in NBA history. 

2. Play a Complete Game

The Mavericks' offense was scorching hot offensively in the first half of Game 2 — scoring a staggering 72 points. Dallas even managed to lead by as many as 19 points at one point, until it all unraveled in the third quarter without a recovery being made. 

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''It's the Warriors. They have a great team. They're a championship team. We've got to adjust our defense,'' Doncic said. ''... We were up 19, so it's a tough situation. But we can't look back. What happened, happened. So we've got to move on.''

How bad was the Mavericks' offense in the second half of Game 2? Well, it wasn't great, to say the least. Dallas was limited to just 13 points while shooting just 5-19 (26.3 percent) overall and 2-13 (15.3 percent) from deep.

''We know how good they are as a third-quarter team,'' Mavericks forward Reggie Bullock said. ''It's just something that slipped away from us as the game continued to go on.''

The Warriors never looked back. They put up a game-high 43 points in the fourth quarter by shooting 15-19 (78.9 percent) from the floor and 5-7 (71.4 percent) on 3s. Jordan Poole and Stephen Curry couldn't be contained and the back-end of the Mavericks' defense was falling apart.

1. Shot Luck at American Airlines Center

When a team says "we got the shots we wanted, they just didn't fall," that tends to be overused at times. However, thanks to ShotQuality data, there is a helpful measure of a team's shot profile to better understand if a team's shots were genuinely 

The Mavericks "won" the shot quality battle in each of the first two games of this series. When those shots are falling as they were in the first half, the Dallas offense is daunting to slow down. The floor shrinks and the results can get ugly when that isn't the case. 

Some of the layers of issues that stem from missing shots against a team like the Warriors can allow some serious runs. Long misses and turnovers tend to create open floor opportunities and with Golden State being a team that thrives playing fast, that's a problem. 

"If you make [3s], that's great, but you just have to understand, if you miss four in a row, you can't take the fifth," Mavericks coach Kidd said. "You've got to make it. That just puts too much stress on yourself and on your team because, if you're not getting stops on the other end, it turns into a blowout."

The Mavericks shot extremely poor on open shots in Game 1 as they went just 11-44 (25.0 percent) on 3-point attempts classified as being at least open. Even just a terrible shooting quarter can throw the offense into a loop, as seen with the third period in Game 2. 

Sometimes, the in-depth analysis and science that goes into winning or losing can be simplified: make enough shots.