Although it’s hard to fully appreciate the accomplishments of a successful season during the middle of a playoff beatdown, the Dallas Mavericks have much to be proud of. They also have a solid foundation to build on during the offseason and beyond.
Dallas’ season technically isn’t over yet, but after losing to the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 to fall into a 3-0 hole in the Western Conference finals, the writing is on the wall. No team in NBA history has ever come back from that deficit to win a series. If the Mavs want to do the unthinkable and make history, it has to start with one win.
“It's just one game. We'll get ready for Game 4, and that's all we can focus on,” coach Jason Kidd said after Sunday's loss.
Whether the Mavs are able to avoid the sweep and stretch out this series or not, Kidd appreciates the fight his team has shown all season and sees a very bright future ahead.
“This is just the beginning of this journey,” he said. “I know you guys (media) had us winning the championship before the season started … and that's a joke if you didn't get it. But this is a lot bigger than just this one game or this one series. This is huge for our franchise because none of you guys had us here.
“You guys were all supposed to be on vacation. So it's cool to go through this, and we're going against — you can call them a dynasty. I saw this in San Antonio where you go against — they have three great players who will be all Hall-of-Famers, and this is a great lesson learned from us.”
After surging from a 16-18 record to finish 52-30, the Mavs claimed home-court advantage in the first round for the first time since the 2011 championship season. After grinding out two tough, impressive series wins over the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns, it appears that these Mavs are finally running on empty — although the players would never admit that.
“I don't think it's fatigue,” said Doncic, who finished Game 3 with 40 points and 11 rebounds. “Sometimes, some point of the game, you're going to be fatigued, but I don't think so. I think the rebounds, the second-chance points are a big problem in this series.”
When it comes to the Mavs’ shortcomings against the Warriors, many bring up Golden State’s championship experience, superior talent and deeper bench. Although there’s a lot of truth to that, the Mavs have been able to hold their own more times than not in this series. They’ve held leads of 19 and nine points respectively in Games 2 and 3, but haven’t been able to get over the hump due to poor shooting.
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As good as the Warriors are defensively, it’s not like they’ve clamped down on the Mavs. Dallas has gotten plenty of high-quality looks in every game, but its role players haven’t been able to convert.
According to Shot Quality’s postgame evaluations, there’s a chance the Mavs could be leading this series if they’d simply make more shots that they’re expected to make. Simply put, the Mavs have underperformed despite having a number of great looks, and the Warriors have exceeded their shot selection despite not getting as many great looks.
In the most recent example of this in Game 3, Reggie Bullock, Maxi Kleber and Davis Bertans combined to go 1-18 from the field, including 0-14 from 3-point range, despite many of those looks being wide open. Bullock, who has played a ton of minutes and has been asked to help carry a huge load defensively, accounted for 10 of those 18 misses by himself.
Bullock (631) and Dorian Finney-Smith (610) have played more minutes in these playoffs than any other players, and it hasn’t been close. When looking at Warriors players, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry lead in minutes played with 496 and 491, respectively. Bullock and Finney-Smith are being run ragged due to the Mavs’ lack of competent wing depth.
That’s something general manager Nico Harrison will surely look to address this offseason, as well as finding an upgrade at center after Dwight Powell has proven to be nearly unplayable throughout the playoffs. To give a little more context as to how bad the Mavs’ big-man situation has been, as Doncic somewhat alluded to, Curry has out-rebounded Powell and Maxi Kleber combined (25-15) by double digits so far through three games.
Despite the Mavs’ inevitable playoff demise, getting to this point with the current roster shows just how special the team could be going forward if the proper adjustments are made. Harrison has proven that he’s not afraid to pull the trigger on shuffling the roster, having traded Kristaps Porzingis after just a few months into this season. Expect even more of that aggression this summer.
The Mavs still have an opportunity to add at least one more positive note to a season that has been full of them. Although coming back from a 3-0 deficit while being fatigued is unthinkable, wouldn’t it fit the character of these Mavs to claw and put up one last fight?
“This isn't the end. This is just the beginning,” said Kidd. “This is the beginning of the journey, and we'll be ready to go for Game 4.”
In what has been the best Mavericks season in 11 years, they live to fight at least one more time.