June 23, 2024

Mavericks aren’t panicking after Game 1 NBA Finals loss. They’ve been here before


BOSTON — The Dallas Mavericks have been down 0-1 in a series twice during their run to the NBA Finals. They’ve been here six times in seven series with Jason Kidd at the helm.

They know what the “tomorrow” of a game like this, a 107-89 smashing at the hands of the Boston Celtics in Thursday’s Game 1, feels like. More than they’d like, perhaps, but they know.

So Friday will look and feel familiar to them.

“It’s just about the positives (and) what can we do to build on them,” Kidd said Thursday night. “We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Understanding the small things, the physicality. We have to be better at that.”

Most Mavericks players said they’re ready for Friday’s film session. Already, they’re most interested in what could be better.

“I feel like (the Celtics) don’t need to give us that boost,” rookie center Dereck Lively II said. “We all feel it in our soul.”

P.J. Washington echoed what Lively said: “The biggest thing was strategy (for me). Guys have been in the right mental space.”

It’s that belief that helped Dallas overcome 0-1 series deficits against the LA Clippers in the first round and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second. It’s why the team’s emotional leader, Kyrie Irving, recalled an unusual feeling from those tomorrows.

“I will say that the next day was pretty cool, you know,” said Irving, who struggled with 12 points on 6-of-19 shooting Thursday. “To see us still joined together in practice, still go through our day-to-day routines and rituals, and just hold each other up and hold each other accountable, but in a very healthy way. We are very honest about what we can continue to do better, and then we are very honest about how we can coach one another to be better.”

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Dallas doesn’t believe it’s good to fall behind in a series, nor do the Mavericks feel like their confidence alone will make this series any closer than Game 1’s thrashing. The team will look at the adjustments it must make before Sunday’s Game 2. They’re ones that started halfway through the second quarter, actually, and provided the limited optimism Dallas can take from this game.

At the 6:36 mark of the second quarter, Dallas shifted to Maxi Kleber as the team’s lone center. Kleber is a modern big who switches and shoots, although his willingness ebbs and flows. (He attempted no shots from deep on Thursday.) He’s trusted much more to guard on the perimeter, even against opposing stars, than starting center Daniel Gafford, who played only 4:36 in the second half.

After Kleber’s insertion, the Mavericks began switching nearly every action Boston threw at them. The move also provided the team slightly better spacing. While rim protection from the bigs got Dallas to the finals, it isn’t as viable against a team as 3-point proficient as Boston. From that mid-second-quarter insertion to the time the Mavericks took out its stars, Boston outscored Dallas by just three points.

It didn’t matter because the Celtics led by 21 points at the time, and it doesn’t matter that Dallas cut the lead to eight in the third quarter when it ultimately lost by 18. Boston took away both corner 3s and lob dunks from the Dallas offense. After attempting 67 alley-oops this postseason, Dallas tried just one in Thursday’s game. The only other game this postseason were Dallas threw one lob was in its Game 1 defeat against the Clippers. The only other game where Dallas attempted just four 3-pointers from the corners came against the Minnesota Timberwolves — also in the first game of the series, albeit a game the team won.

“I think (the Celtics are) the best team in the NBA,” Kidd said. “They are good for a reason.”

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Some teams these playoffs haven’t been able to take away either of the Mavericks’ main weapons. Dallas must figure out ways to unlock one or both. While Luka Dončić had a standard game by his standpoint, it wasn’t one of his invincible heaters. His third-quarter flurry to cut Boston’s lead to single digits was fleeting. What was not standard from him was recording just one assist for only the fifth time in his career. Because Boston dared Dončić to score, he — and, less frequently, Irving — tried to oblige.

“I don’t necessarily agree it’s a trap they want to set us,” said Irving, referring to the Celtics’ Game 1 approach of playing Dallas’ star pairing to score rather than get their teammates more involved.

There’s far more that will happen in Friday’s now-familiar “tomorrow” for Dallas. They’ll experience the same post-Game 1 phenomenon, now within this sport’s highest stakes.

“We are going to hear the familiar sentiment or familiar phrase that a lot of guys haven’t experienced the finals on our team, and that’s OK,” Irving said. “Experience is the best teacher, and once you get Game 1 out of the way or Game 2 out of the way, you start feeling better about the series.”

None of that experience changes Boston pummeling Dallas in Game 1. The Mavericks’ offense was too bothered, their defense too unwavering. Dallas must improve on it all to have a chance — even if it means this might not be a series for players such as Gafford.

Unlike many of these players, Dončić has been on the biggest stages. He was there during the Mavericks’ 2022 conference-finals run that twice saw them overcome 0-1 deficits to win earlier series.

Asked about the team’s confidence, he was even clearer.

“You want me to say we have no confidence?” Dončić said. “Of course (we do).”


More Game 1 coverage from The Athletic

(Top photo: Adam Glanzman / Getty Images)



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