The Dallas Mavericks avoided being swept by achieving a 119-109 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 4. Now, they are sticking with a game-by-game approach in hopes of pulling off what has never been achieved before — rallying back from being down 3-0 in the series.
Luka Doncic set the tone with 30 points, 14 rebounds, and nine assists along with a pair of steals and blocks. His production was on-par with his prior averages of 34.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 5.0 assists in the three prior games. A key difference? The Mavericks executed better defensively and shot well from deep.
Defensively, the Warriors continued to prioritize protecting the paint by sacrificing giving up open 3-point attempts. The Mavericks shot 18-40 (45.0 percent) on 3-point attempts that were considered at least open compared to the 12-43 (27.9 percent) they shot in Game 3 on the same looks.
There was a heightened sense of importance for the Mavericks' offense for complementary talents like Dorian Finney-Smith, Reggie Bullock, and Maxi Kleber to convert on their 3s with Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie having lesser scoring outings — combining for 25 points.
What can the Mavericks' offense learn from their win that can carry into Game 5? Here are some observations:
Value of Role Players Making Shots
With the series shifting to Chase Center for Game 5, it remains to be seen if the Mavericks' shooters will continue to convert at a high clip. The Warriors essentially have played the numbers game that more often than not, Dallas' supporting cast will not get it done.
Doncic is going to draw two defenders when he turns the corner to drive. When that happens, it's essential that role players are ready to convert on catch-and-shoot attempts when Doncic creates these sequences. It makes the defense pay for not staying honest.
The simpler sequences leading to open 3-pointers when the Warriors are pre-rotated or simply deploying a zone scheme are essential for him to convert. By making these shots, Golden State may have to consider either shifting to a traditional scheme or losing the numbers game.
There are trickle effects that occur when shots go in. Bullock went 0-7 from 3-point range in Game 3 and went 6-10 in Game 4. By converting from beyond the arc, he applied pressure on the Warriors' defense in needed ways.
Take the pick-and-pop play from Bullock in the clip below. For example, he knocks it down and then commands the attention of two defenders out on a subsequent possession — leading to an open corner 3.
The Mavericks' offense showed in Game 3 that even if Doncic, Brunson, and Dinwiddie can combine for 86 points, the situation still requires complementary talents to execute their catch-and-shoot attempts to an extent.
Doncic Finding Advantages to Exploit
There's a greater comfort level from the Mavericks' offense in handling the Warriors' various "junk" defenses, too. With it being essential for Doncic to remain aggressive as a scorer, finding advantages for him to attack is important.
When the Warriors went with a box-and-one, Doncic brought the defender out far from the 3-point line before using a ball screen. By flipping the screen, Doncic was able to snake dribble into the gap and attack the rim for a finish.
Against the Warriors' 1-2-2 zone down the stretch, the Mavericks experienced success deploying Doncic off the ball to begin possessions. Whether he was attacking from the wing off the dribble or cutting from the weak side, the outcomes were simple to execute as opposed to attacking from the middle.
Doncic does not take many catch-and-shoot jumpers and he often likes to use a pause on the catch to attack the closeout off the dribble instead of shooting. Against the Warriors' zone schemes, he will need to be ready to shoot as he did late in Game 4.
With the Warriors not allowing the Mavericks' offense to use traditional high ball screen plays, Doncic has to be more aggressive looking to score. Whether it's against a switch, hedge-and-recover, or attacking with his back to the basket, he's gotten it done.
The foundation of Doncic's attack has been to get to his step-back from deep knowing he can get it off against any matchup. What makes these shot attempts so daunting for any defense is the understanding there's nothing that can be done if he's given space to be comfortable to operate and they drop.
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When the Warriors switch with Looney as the big defender, he isn't quick enough to commit to loading up on Doncic anticipating the step-back and recover. The vulnerability has created some opportunities for Doncic to fake the step-back with one resulting in a give-and-go for a drive.
It's not just about the direct scoring chance that Doncic creates for himself at times by faking the step-back. He can become a decoy while neutralizing a stunt for a teammate to drive down the middle of the floor by acting quickly. Doing so resulted in a spray-out pass from Brunson to Finney-Smith on one possession.
Not becoming too content with taking step-backs when the switches are drawn is important, too. The Warriors have done an effective job of showing help from both defenders one pass away, but Doncic has to remain aggressive regardless.
A formula for success that has worked for Doncic throughout the playoffs has been to get to backdown dribbles when he has a matchup that he wants. Even against Klay Thompson, Doncic has shown he can create an advantage for a favorable shot attempt with appropriate spacing.
Even simple adjustments can add up for an individual game to make a pivotal difference. It's like the Warriors deploying junk schemes early in Game 1 to throw the Mavericks' offense off enough to keep Doncic in check.
Complementary Talents Attacking Weakpoints
The Mavericks do have the luxury of deploying either Brunson or Dinwiddie alongside Doncic at all times. Both guards have shown an ability to attack weak points in the Warriors' defense when the opportunities are available to them.
When a possession stagnates, it's important to trust multiple players on the floor to make a play. Brunson exemplified this best by attacking out of the corner with Draymond Green defending him — resulting in a pull-up jumper.
Having either Brunson or Dinwiddie initiate offense at times proved to present some advantages, too. Among the top priorities is to attack Curry when there are opportunities to do so. Dinwiddie got into a quick post-up by doing so.
The Warriors have largely maintained a similar defensive approach since the start of this series aside from switching up the matchups at times. There are weak points in their scheme that competent role players can take advantage of by being aggressive.
Kleber deserves credit for his closeout counters in Game 4. There were a few situations where he created a simpler opportunity instead of settling for a tougher 3-point attempt. Whether he took a one-dribble pull-up in mid-range or reloaded behind the 3-point line, he was aggressive when needed.
Both Kleber and Finney-Smith showed the value of forcing fly-bys against an aggressive closeout by using a shot fake to create a passing opportunity to get the ball to a teammate to make a play against a defense out of rotation.
Finney-Smith was quite impactful playing off the ball overall in Game 4. Between forcing a fly by with a shot fake and cutting after being deployed as a screener, he showed he can be deployed as a pressure release valve to counter the Warriors' half-court scheme.
The Warriors' defense is forced to scramble when the ball moves after loading up on Doncic — leaving vulnerabilities to attacks off the catch. It will be important that Finney-Smith continues to seek out opportunities to make an impact as a secondary playmaker when attacking closeouts, too.
Staying active off the ball when the Warriors' defense ball watches against Doncic is important. Making off-ball defenders have to quickly make reads and decisions that can be exploited can lead to breakdowns in addition to countering aggressive closeouts. Everyone in the offense must be ready.