Friday, May 24, 2024 May 24, 2024
77° F Dallas, TX
Advertisement
Basketball

What We Saw, What It Felt Like: Mavs-Thunder, Game 2

The Mavericks stole one in OKC. Now it's back to Dallas for Game 3.
|
Image
The Mavericks have plenty to celebrate after stealing homecourt advantage. Alonzo Adams-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

Relief. 

That was the first thing that came to mind watching Luka Dončić knock down his first couple of trademark step-back threes. His 16 points, six rebounds, and three assists in the first quarter were a reminder of how dominant Dončić can be, something we are so used to watching over his career but haven’t seen much of in these playoffs as he’s battled injury. What happened next was another display of the Mavericks at their best. The defense focused even more on Dončić, leaving room and opportunities for the role players to step up. And they did—big time. P.J. Washington, Josh Green, and Tim Hardaway Jr. all made key plays during critical moments of the game, collectively sinking 12 of their 20 attempts from the three-point line. 

As expected for the second game, several adjustments were made. Dallas opened with early touches for Washington and had Dončić playing a decoy role on the other side. That was a big reason why Washington got going early and why he had a career playoff night. We even saw the Mavericks look to use Washington in the post, punishing Mark Daigneault’s attempt to hide Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on him defensively. Daniel Gafford was roaming off Josh Giddey from the start, forcing Daigneault to pull the plug early and limiting the 21-year-old Australian to less than 11 minutes of playing time.

Even more importantly, the Mavericks won the possession battle, posting a lower turnover rate and a higher offensive rebound rate than OKC. Two games into this series, it’s evident that for Dallas to beat the high-octane Thunder offense, they need to junk up the game, be the aggressors, and turn defense into offense.

But in the end, this win goes beyond tactics and Xs and Os. Not for the first time in these playoffs, the Mavericks have proven they are a resilient and connected group. That starts with their two leaders, Dončić and Kyrie Irving, changing past, often unjustified, perceptions through hustle on defense and unselfish play on offense. Irving, despite scoring only nine points, had a huge impact on this game. He sacrificed his usual shot volume for countless hustle plays, including a vital stop against Gilgeous-Alexander. He played the role of initiator, absorbing pressure and then making quick passes to generate good looks, totaling a game-high 11 assists.

And Dončić demonstrated that no matter how many times he gets knocked down—as he did several times in this game—he will never stop fighting. His Game 2 encounters with OKC’s aggressive defenders added a tooth and an ankle to his list of war wounds and bruises, which already includes a bloodied and sprained knee. When it was over, Dončić described this game as one of the hardest of his career. Given how banged up he is, and given the knack the Mavericks have for getting into these bloodbaths, it won’t get easier anytime soon. —Iztok Franko

What It Felt Like

The hypotheticals cropped up by the end of the first quarter, and they lingered deep into the second. What happens when Dallas needs a secondary power source beyond Luka Dončić, who scored or assisted on 24 of the Mavs’ 36 first-quarter points? And what happens when the threes dry up after Dallas drilled 10 of their first 18?

The answer to both was collective effort. 

After Game 1, I likened the Thunder to an indomitable horde heading toward the gates, which made Game 2 feel like an exaggerated action set piece, with major and minor characters banding together to repel them at every turn. Irving, pedestrian on offense for the first time these playoffs, compensated once again with defense, where his effort rivals the very best work of his career. Washington broke Dirk Nowitzki’s jumper out of Springfield, further demonstrating that his acquisition has been one of the shrewdest moves of the Nico Harrison era. Hardaway was dug out of mothballs and swung the third quarter damn near by himself. Green played his frenetic best: not thinking, just doing, and doing it all fast enough to keep Oklahoma City on its heels. And everyone, together, synced up to smother the Thunder’s offense for minutes-long chunks, buying time for another Washington corner three or Hardaway’s personal 10-0 run in the third to engineer just a little more breathing room.

In the end, the Mavs survived, which is all they needed to do to generate a bit of momentum en route back to Dallas. Still, there is a difference between living to fight another day and making the invading force think twice. The Mavericks need Irving, the player we surmised would control this series, back at his best if they have any hope of taking the series. For that matter, they need Dončić to deliver four brilliant quarters at a time instead of one and a half. And continued hot shooting from Washington, too, even if seven makes in 10 attempts from distance isn’t a reasonable expectation.

Even if the Mavs get all of that, the Thunder will not stop. They are too athletic to be contained for long and too naive to playoff failure to worry about old ghosts lingering around corners. They’ll need to be defeated, not just outlasted. But the first step toward that is staying in the fight, and last night, Dallas did exactly that. —Mike Piellucci

Authors

Iztok Franko

Iztok Franko

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

Mike Piellucci

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