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Basketball

What We Saw, What It Felt Like: Mavs-Warriors, Game 1

It's only up from here.
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Game 1 was one long flex for the Warriors. Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The playoffs are complicated. Each series is its own story, and each game is its own chapter encompassing a dozen moments and plot points. But the playoffs can also be simple. Each of those moments, those plot points, falls into one of two buckets: the things we observe and the emotions they inspire within us. That’s what we’re here to talk about.

What We Saw 

We are used to this by now. After every Mavericks playoffs high comes a low. So of course a historic Game 7 victory would be followed by another demoralizing blowout in the series opener against the Warriors.

While it’s difficult to feel upbeat after such a lopsided loss, these Mavericks showed us they can and will bounce back quickly. After all, they followed two 20-point blowouts in the previous series with great comeback wins. The first half wasn’t even that bad; Dallas just couldn’t make any shots. Luka Doncic scored 18 points in the first half, but the rest of the group went four for 22 from the three-point line. Half those were lightly contested or uncontested per Second Spectrum tracking data. In other words, the looks were there. 

Then, like in Game 5 in Phoenix, the Mavericks just fell apart in the third quarter. Doncic, rattled by the Warriors’ pressure, scored only two points and had six turnovers after the break in what was probably his worst playoff showing.

The only positive after Game 1 is that the Mavericks’ brain—Kidd and Doncic—downloaded the initial data. And there is a lot to process after this one. Steve Kerr threw every possible curveball at Doncic out of the gate. The Warriors went into a zone defense only five minutes into the game, then later shifting to the box and one. All night long, they had Dallas’ ball-handlers guessing where the help was coming from on their drives. Ultimately Game 1 was played on the Warriors’ terms, and the Mavericks struggled to match their pace on both sides of the floor.

If this was a game Doncic and the rest of the Mavericks needed for probing and sampling, so be it. Kidd talked all season long about how his main job is to help Luka with the answers to the quiz, and he found the right solutions against both the Jazz and Suns. Dallas looked outmatched early on against them, too, only to close both series as a better team. If the Mavericks can remain in striking distance after the first few games, they’ll have a chance. 

But they can’t spend any more time probing and chasing the Warriors. Because as fast as Steph Curry and his running mates looked in Game 1, they could run away with this even faster. —Iztok Franko

What It Felt Like

A team driving through a hailstorm, the deluge picking up the farther it got down the road. Spencer Dinwiddie aside, it is no exaggeration to say that absolutely nothing went according to plan for Dallas. The Mavericks were pelted—by their own abominable shooting and early foul trouble (for Maxi Kleber), but even more so by Golden State’s whirring schemes and whizbang pace.

When the first half silver lining is being outshot by 25 percent yet only down nine points, things have gone terribly awry.

As for the second half? Well, there were no second-half silver linings.

It was an altogether different setback from the opening game of the first two series. Game 1 versus Utah brought optimism in defeat: if that’s what it took for the Jazz to eke out a win without Luka Doncic on the floor, what happens to them when he is? And while some in the Mavs’ building may have projected confidence, to those of us on the outside, the opener against Phoenix came off like a reality check: an overachieving Mavs team running into a brick wall against the squad that, at the time, profiled as the overwhelming title favorite.  

This one falls somewhere in between emotionally. There is a mountain of work to do, so many adjustments for the coaching staff, so much improvement for every player on the roster. Yet after a month of playoff basketball, we know this team’s resolve. We’ve seen these Mavericks’ capacity for absorbing punishment early in a series and recalibrating when others might recoil. Given that, one game, no matter how lopsided, is far too little to presume this is the true talent gap between Dallas and Golden State.

In all likelihood, it’s the low-water mark. Because storms are temporary. They always pass. Clouds roll away; thunder dissipates. The hail stops pelting your windshield. Reality is found in the light of day, looking at whatever’s left standing. This storm is gone, and odds are we just saw the Mavericks’ worst game in this series.

I repeat: it cannot get worse than what we just saw. But for Dallas to return to the Finals, it must get a whole lot better. —Mike Piellucci

Authors

Iztok Franko

Iztok Franko

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Iztok Franko covers the Mavericks for StrongSide. He is an analyst that uncovers stories hidden in NBA data and basketball…
Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

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Mike Piellucci is D Magazine's sports editor. He is a former staffer at The Athletic and VICE, and his freelance…