The Dallas Mavericks came up short in their 112-87 loss in Game 1 to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. With the goal of avoiding a 2-0 series deficit, they will need to respond in a major way in Game 2.
Defeating the Warriors on the road is no easy task. The Warriors are 16-3 at home in Game 2's since their title run in 2014-15 and are 17-5 in Game 2's overall during this stretch.
The Warriors made it a point to neutralize Luka Doncic by loading up on him aggressively. He was limited to just 20 points on 6-18 from the floor and 3-10 on 3s while the team as a whole went just 11-48 (22.9 percent) from beyond the arc.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks had a tough time keeping up with the speed of the Warriors' offense on the open floor and with their decision-making in the half-court.
As Game 2 gets ready to tip-off at 8 p.m. CT on Friday night at Chase Center, here are some of the biggest keys to watch for:
Get Creative With Lineups
When the Mavericks face a team that denies them traditional ball screen usage by switching everything, Powell's impact on offense becomes significantly limited. The defense essentially his positioning in the dunker spot as a way to load up the paint. With Draymond Green in the matchup, that's a problem.
Now, the concern for the Mavericks is how small can they go before they get blasted on the boards given rebounding is already a problem? Against the Warriors, there are times when their stronger players like Andrew Wiggins or Draymond Green
The Mavericks do need to deploy their three-guard lineup with Doncic, Brunson, and Dinwiddie more frequently. They also need to minimize the playing time allocated to non-shooting threats, including Powell.
The Warriors can't make a concerted effort to contain three threats that can get into the paint all at the same time. It becomes simpler to identify and attack weaker elements of the defense as opposed to trying to make something happen out of tougher options.
If there doesn't end up being a viable option for the Mavericks with lineup combinations after getting creative, it becomes a sign that perhaps upgrading a spot or two is a must before emerging as a consistent title contender.
Lock In On Defense
The Warriors are not the type of half-court offense that is going to have one player pound the air out of the ball until a tough shot gets taken. They run a fast-paced attack where the ball is flying around the unit — forcing the defense to react with rotations.
Instead, the Warriors are going to run a ball screen and if the defense is playing close to the level and loading up, they will get to a weak-side action to put the defense into the blender.
The speed of the Warriors' decision-making threw the Mavericks' defense into a loop. Whether the end result was open cuts, losing a shooter just long enough to give up a look, or being out of position on the boards, it takes a tied-together unit to get it done.
A general rule of thumb: Do not feel you get even a second of relaxation after Stephen Curry gives up the basketball. Dorian Finney-Smith experienced this the hard way after Curry gave the ball up out of a trap and immediately worked to get it back with the help of an off-ball screen.
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The Warriors took advantage of the Mavericks' defense favoring engaging tightly off the ball by using secondary actions to generate open cuts into space. Loading up on the initial ball screen Curry is involved in leads to cuts out of secondary actions at times. That can't happen.
The Mavericks will need to also determine if it's worth sending two at the ball against someone like Klay Thompson when it can put the backend of the unit at risk of not being able to finish the play. Minimizing the situations where making an offensive threat see two defenders when appropriate can help keep things intact.
Where the Warriors did a lot of damage to the Mavericks was when they had chances to get out in transition. The speed they played at seemed overwhelming at times, whether it was Green aggressively initiating, spray-ahead passes were made, or a blow-by happened after engaging the ball so high.
It's going to take a more focused effort from the Mavericks as a whole unit if they are going to try to load up on the Warriors' top talents. There is too much discipline in Golden State's offense to succeed by taking away just the head of the snake in the half-court.
Offensive Execution Must Tighten Up
When any team is playing against the Warriors, it's a terrible combination to shoot poorly on open shots and turn the ball over often. Golden State is just too good of an open floor team and those two factors create chances to take advantage.
When the Mavericks' shooters aren't connecting at a reasonable clip, it encourages the Warriors' defensive strategy of loading up against him. It's up to the role player shooters to make the Warriors' defense have to play a more honest approach by hitting shots.
Converting at just an 11-44 (25.0 percent) clip when taking 3-point attempts classified as being at least open it's just not going to cut it. That's a lot of quality looks that didn't drop.
“Just make the shots,” Kidd 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 Warriors used a variety of different zone looks early in the game, including a box-and-one and a 1-2-2 zone to throw off the Mavericks' comfort level. Golden State deployed such tactics in addition to having Andrew Wiggins pick up Doncic full-court at times and pre-rotating off weak-side shooters.
All of those "junk" defensive schemes are made possible by the Warriors being unafraid of someone else beating them.
"Yeah, they did a really good job, Wiggins picking him up full court," Kidd said. "They were box-and-one, went zone. But they did a good job. Give them credit. Wiggins did a really good job. We understood coming into the series that we were going to see that. We'll go back and look at the video and see what we can do better."
Even when the Warriors used a more traditional approach — like a hedge-and-recover against a guard setting a ball screen for Doncic — it's essential that open shooters make shots. Golden State won't stop overloading until they are forced to do so.
It all starts with role players converting on clean looks coupled with other talents being able to make plays off the bounce. The Warriors made that more challenging for Jalen Brunson to accomplish by going under screens, knowing he rarely takes pull-up 3s.