DALLAS — You see this when Jason Kidd has to turn to Maxi Kleber, who knows that every minute the score is not going to stray from his Mavericks, it’s a win.
You hear it when the oversized speakers on the American Airlines Center rims confirm what’s on the stats, and the jingle sounds more and more painful as the race goes on.
It’s clear that when Luka Doncic has to star in Super Mario to give his team a chance, when that power wears off, he’ll get tired, exhausted and seek refuge from the referee.
The Dallas Mavericks outperformed even their expectations, an equal indictment against the Phoenix Suns as it was a compliment to Kidd’s team. But they’re not ready for this stage other than against these Golden State Warriors.
By then, many key parts may not appear or be as prominent.
Consider this: The Warriors’ fifth-best player, sixth or seventh on some nights, will be Doncic’s No. 1 pick in this series — and he’s the former No. 1 overall pick The pick, he doesn’t have to be like a franchise savior to be effective.
All Andrew Wiggins has to do is guard Doncic — and dunk on him irregular. His talent is what his pedigree would suggest, although his career didn’t develop that way.
And he’s a player the Warriors don’t have to have every night. His consistency in the playoffs, with 27 points and 11 rebounds tonight, propelled the Warriors to another level. Not only get them on the court in June, but also take on the Miami-Boston slugfest champions and go easy on a game against Jayson Tatum or Jimmy Butler.
“Wiggins is a talented player, he’s an All-Star,” Kidd said. “High level when you look at what they asked him to do.”
The Warriors are a team full of grown men, IMHO. Championship experience makes them stronger, even bolder. By contrast, the Mavericks are still in their infancy.
“That’s an important lesson from us,” Kidd said. “It’s not the end. It’s just the beginning, if you remember, I said it in the Phoenix series. You have great memories.”
The Warriors have clear memories of the team they saw in Game 2, who played a goddamn good game for the visiting team but didn’t play well. The point is to win this game, suppress any remaining confidence, and capitalize on any doubts that have arisen in the last 48 hours.
“You can basically put away a team tonight,” said Warriors forward Draymond Green, who picked up the technique but quickly sparked a decisive third-quarter game. “We came up with a certain level of intensity, focused on hitting the road and stealing a required level. We definitely wanted to give it our all.”
It was the 26th time in a row that Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Green have won at least one road game in a playoff series, an NBA record. If the Mavericks win a road game in this series, it means they’ll be eliminated in two straight games and reverse the series, bringing it back to Dallas for Game 6.
With Doncic, anything is possible, but it’s like asking him to guard Wiggins at the rim — expecting this to only end in embarrassing and funny replays.
“It’s impressive, I’m not going to lie,” Doncic said. “I watched the video again and I thought, oh. That’s incredible. I wish I had those bunnies.”
Doncic’s greatness has been on display throughout the playoffs, and his work has him in those lovely visual displays alongside basketball ghosts. That sparked the idea that maybe he could elevate these upstarts to the unlikely NBA Finals in his fourth year and beat a championship team in the process.
But this isn’t the LeBron James of 2007, and it’s not contempt for Doncic. The only decoration on this team is the sideline antics, Multiple fines draw ire from NBA league office.
His showmanship — swinging in Curry’s direction after the buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter — was more artistic and impactful than anything he did on the night, his third in the playoffs. A 40-point game, all losses.
He took on the scoring load, and people wondered how he would perform when a talented player asked for the ball at All-Star speed. Only Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie get a chance to do their own thing, everyone else has to eat Doncic’s prey.
“I think there was a combination, we just didn’t shoot well,” Kidd said. “Look at these three guys who are scoring, it’s not enough. Against the Warriors, you need players to be in the offense, but we’re getting better and better.”
Doncic’s nightly performances belied the flaws in his game that he had to improve before becoming Slovenian Harden: playing against teammates, playing in inevitable setbacks, and of course, individual defense.
But every switch is staring at Luka as the greatest shooter of all time, the top five shooter of all time, and the biggest up-and-coming player…and then the guy who made him a playoff poster, Wiggins.
It’s easy to see why Dallas has a crush on Wiggins’ former teammate, a high-flyer from Chicago named Zach LaVine, who will become a free agent in July. A player with that athleticism, the kind of good one-on-one player who puts stretch marks on defense will make you forget Doncic’s own stretch marks on defense.
Or a player who spun around the arena after games, another potential summer target familiar to the Mavs since he played for them a few years ago, Suns center JaVale McGee.
The gap is huge, and the Warriors’ team building has been nearly 10 years in the making.
“Like Draymond, for example. He’s one of the biggest players. He’s one of the greatest role players of all time,” Dinwiddie said. “But he’s not a traditional indie max player, right? Like, you’re not going to put him on the phone, hey, go get 30. Right. They’ve got great team composition, great chemistry, and they’re essentially It’s a dynasty.”
The Mavericks have basically used their talent and had players perform over their heads every other night, catching up with them for three straight weeks, Reggie Bullock going 0-for-10 (seven 3-pointers), Klay Bert scored and missed all five of his attempts.
He made 13 of 45 3-pointers, more than half of which came from long range.
It seems rather silly to change their style late in the game to cut down on 3-pointers, which is helpful for Utah and Phoenix considering that it’s going to help them beat arguably the toughest opponents in the series.
“We could definitely attack the room. But we built it the way we built it,” Dinwiddie said. “You get to the Western Conference finals and you start missing shots, but you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
The kid has a cold, and the Warriors just put another relentless cold blanket over it — June’s plans await, and the Mavericks have work to do.