Is there a single moment from Game 3 last night that perfectly encapsulates the Western Conference Finals thus far?
Consider Andrew Wiggins drive to the basket with about six-and-a-half minutes left in the fourth quarter. Wiggins leapt over Mavericks' superstar Luka Doncic, winding up like a catapult, then dropping a sledge hammer for what has already been called "the dunk of the playoffs."
But the moment was anticlimactic. As the announcer's minds were being blown, a whistle interrupted: offensive foul on Wiggins, wiping out the two points. On the first of the following 800 replays, Doncic — who would make a good soccer player with his theatrics — appears to get hit in the face, but it was quickly obvious that Wiggins never touched him, not even close. This culminated several questionable calls on the night (every call and no-call in basketball is fiercely debated), and there was, perhaps, a chance that Golden State might have gotten sucked into the referee drama, as they had in parts of Game 2.
After a Golden State challenge, the bucket stood. It was 93-83 Warriors. Sure, Dallas would cut the lead to five with about a minute left, but a Jordan Poole three-pointer deflated any last-minute Mavericks' push. Riding the wave of Andrew Wiggins' energy and his 27-point, 11-rebound performance last night, the Warriors took Game 3 109-100 for a 3-0 series lead.
Have the Dallas Mavericks ever felt as if they were really in the Western Conference Finals? Even when they had a 19-point lead in Game 2, even when they had a nine-point lead last night, even with Luka Doncic's 34-point series' average, and even with their short-lived, last-minute push, it's just never felt like the Mavericks have played with a killer, go-for-the-throat mentality. They can not figure out how to get a win, where the Warriors — who have been playing very well, but not perfectly — have been stringing Ws together by any means necessary.
"Do you feel like this team is ready to win a championship?" a reporter asked Stephen Curry at the postgame press conference on Sunday.
"We're playing great basketball right now. We could play better," Curry said. "We're finding ways to win games; that's how you piece this thing together. We had no idea what it was going to look like — our goal was to keep getting better as the playoffs went through because we were so far from our peak," Curry said, referring to the Warriors' rash of injuries, including his own, that kept the core of the team from playing hardly any minutes together all season.
Dallas couldn't hit the side of a barn last night. The Mavericks shot 40% from the field to the Warriors' 47%-ish; Dallas shot just under 29% from three to Golden State's 34%. After having a killer Game 2, Reggie Bullock had exactly 0 points last night and was 0-7 from distance. Maxi Kleber was ice cold from three-point range, and then seemed to be rattled by all his misses, causing a weird (or non-existent) flow in the Mavericks' offense. Spencer Dinwiddie and Jalen Bruson were bright spots for Dallas, scoring 26 and 20 respectively.
Perhaps the real killer for Dallas has been the Warriors' rebounding. The Dubs grabbed 47 boards to the Mavs' 33 on Sunday. What's more, Golden State only turned the ball over 10 times last night to the Mavericks' 7.
Despite his 34-point average in the Western Conference Finals, the TNT announcing crew gave Luke Doncic some grief, saying that he could be in better shape, and could play much better defense. More than numbers or muscle tone, the Dallas Mavericks just don't seem to have that thing, the instinct to claw out wins, the Eye of the Tiger.
(Hopefully, this isn't the biggest jinx preceding the first-ever 3-0 comeback by a team in NBA playoff history.)
"For me, I had a piss-poor first half," said Draymond Green on his podcast of his start to Game 3. "Also, did y'all think I was over and back?" Green was referring to a second-quarter call by the officials. Voicing his dissent on the call ("That's whack"), Green got a technical foul. Draymond said that he was "frustrated and pissed off" at the start of Game 3, but knew that he had to pull it together if the Warriors were going to get the win.
Green went on to score 10 points with 5 rebounds and 5 assists. The Warriors' starting lineup all played nearly 40 minutes. (De facto Warrior MVP Kevon Looney played 29 minutes; Jordan Poole had 10 points off the bench.)
"Last game, Game 2, I spent the entire game poutin', frustrated, arguing with the referees. I let my emotions go overboard. I knew that I needed to be better in that department."
Top Image: (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)