It doesn’t take a genius to know when exactly the Mavericks turned victory to defeat in Game Two of the Western Conference finals. Even as they still led by two points heading into the payoff period, they gave up all the momentum they hitherto built with erratic play after the half time break. Given their predisposition to run up the score, their inability to put up no more than 13 markers in the third quarter effectively set up the loss. It wasn’t simply that they failed to attack the paint; as was their wont, they took twice as many shots from beyond the arc as from within. It was that they failed to make the shots count, going just two of 13 from three-point range after making 15 of 27 such attempts in the first half.
Significantly, Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd made a big to-do over the shot selection in the penultimate canto. “If you make threes, that’s great. But you just have to understand, if you miss four in a row, you can’t take the fifth. [Because then,] you’ve got to make it,” he argued. “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.” And he’s right. He’s in the Naismith Hall of Fame for a reason, and he clearly lamented his charges’ lack of feel for the need of the moment.
Perhaps Kidd brought some of the problem on the Mavericks. After all, he did keep encouraging the taking of treys throughout Game One, and en route to an atrocious 11-of-48 clip that largely contributed to a blowout defeat. And when the Warriors were making a run in the third quarter of Game Two, he made the tactical decision not to call a time out to stem the bleeding. Granted, it reflected the level of trust he had in top dog Luka Dončić and company. That said, his subsequent criticism, while not without merit, seemed out of place.
In any case, it’s clear even to casual observers that the Mavericks need to keep doing what has precisely enabled them to go deep in the playoffs — which is to say they need to keep taking threes within the flow of the offense. As postseason revelation Jalen Brunson noted, “We we’re getting great looks… So I think as long as we’re open and shooting the correct shots, making the extra pass, doing the things that we do, we have confidence in everybody, I have confidence in everybody to knock it down.”
Truth to tell, there’s enough cause to contend that the Mavericks lost on the other end of the floor. For the most part, they were like a sieve in the second half of Game Two. And, nope, they cannot engage in a shootout; the Warriors simply have too many weapons, beginning with two-time Most Valuable Player awardee Stephen Curry, to be given opportunities to fire away without any semblance of coverage. Kidd tied it to the capacity of the blue and white to stay engaged when shots are falling. “We play defense when we play offense, and we play no defense when we can’t score.”
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.