The energy in The Bay was palpable, a crowd starved for its
team's first Western Conference Finals berth since 2019. The
dominant rule of this Golden State dynasty had been rudely
interrupted by a once-in-a-generation global pandemic, a slew of
untimely injuries and a superstar migrating across the country to
skyscraping lands. Even the Chase Center flooring glimmered in
The only thing that gleamed more was the twinkle in the eye of
the Warriors' team defense.
The Warriors faced a new challenge in the West Finals, going
from containing the quick-twitch athleticism strewn across the
Memphis Grizzlies' roster to now containing the pick-and-roll
craftsmanship of Luka Doncic, arguably the best player of the 2022
postseason. Luka's a nightmare to deal with, to say the least. He
can attack your bigs or smalls on switches in isolation. He makes
passes that only a select few across the globe can make should he
even gain the slightest bit of an advantage. Most of all, he's a
true-blue three-level scorer, geared up with step-back threes,
post-ups with Dirk Nowitzki-legged fadeaways, sikly floaters and
elongated layups at his disposal.
Containing a player of that ilk is not as simple as just
throwing one perimeter player his way and hoping for the best. And
while Luka's primary defender, Andrew Wiggins, did an admirable job
on Wednesday of holding Doncic to 4-of-10 shooting, it was Golden
State's medley of defensive coverages that kept Dallas at bay
during the 25-point evisceration.
Steve Kerr's crew threw out six different coverages in the first
half — blitzes, hedge-and-recovers, a shallow drop coverage,
pick-and-roll switches, a 3-2 zone and even a Box-and-1 — to stifle
Dallas' second-ranked playoff half-court offense to a crawl. Golden
State's coordinated chaos worked effectively, as Dallas put up just
78.8 points per 100 possessions in the half-court during Game 1
(10th percentile, yikes!), well below the 101.3 Offensive Rating
that Dallas normally averages in this setting.
We'll touch on a few of those coverages momentarily, but it was
Golden State's zone looks that were particularly interesting. The
Mavericks haven't seen a ton of zones this postseason, especially
coming off a series against the Phoenix Suns that featured mostly
drop coverage or the occasional switch with Deandre Ayton manning
Interestingly, Golden State aligned its 3-2 zone so that Stephen
Curry was atop the formation, meaning that he was typically Luka
Doncic's primary defender. This goes against conventional thinking;
normally, you'd expect the Warriors to hide Curry in the corners on
one of Dallas' non-threatening options (think: how Miami deployed
Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro in the 2020 postseason) instead of
guarding the best mismatch-hunter on the floor. The Warriors,
however, felt confident about shuttling defensive possessions to
Curry at the point-of-attack, trusting their superstar to utilize his best defensive
attribute — his quick hands— to frustrate Maverick
Of course, it helps with Wiggins and Draymond Green situated at
the nearby wings, able to sink down and contain should Doncic
bullrush his way past the slighter Curry. That's exactly what
happened during this first-quarter possession below; Curry bothered
Doncic's dribble by sticking in an arm, and when Doncic gathered
himself and prepared his attack, Wiggins provided assistance at the
nail to erase the driving lane and coerce the kick out. Jalen
Brunson, of course, misses the spot-up three (a trend on Wednesday
night), and Golden State gets its desired result from the 3-2
There's some irony in the Warriors — the same team that once
complained about Toronto's "junk defenses" in the 2019 NBA Finals —
throwing out Box-and-1s to fluster Dallas' heliocentric offense.
And yet, a minute later, Golden State busted out that janky look,
with Curry, Jordan Poole, Green, and Otto Porter Jr. spread across
the lane lines to form the "box," and Wiggins smothering Luka from
basically the mid-court line.
When Maxi Kleber comes to set a screen for Doncic, Poole and
Wiggins trap Luka and use the sideline as a third defender to force
the pass. Dallas hot-potatoes the ball across the perimeter,
frantically searching for a vialble option, and eventually the Mavs
are left with a 27-foot three from Kleber. A result the Warriors
will live with.
The Mavericks mustered up just 18 total points in the first
quarter, which effectively set the tone for the rest of Game 1.
Looking ahead after the brutal loss, it begs the question: Where
can the Mavericks go next?
Well, there's the obvious answer, for one: Make more friggin'
threes. Duh. The Mavericks whiffed on 37 of their 48 total outside
looks, with some of those misses being pretty dang brutal. But there's
more to the game than just blindly hoping for better results.
Thinning Out the Hedges
As mentioned, one of the coverages that Golden State threw at
Luka was hedging and recovering on pick-and-rolls. Typically, this
was done when Doncic and the Mavericks looked to target Curry in
screening actions. Dallas would have Curry's defender — Reggie
Bullock in the first clip; Spencer Dinwiddie in the second—set a
screen on Luka's defender, Wiggins.
Rather than having Curry switch outright onto Doncic, Steph
would instead jump out toward the 6-foot-8 ball-handler to buy
Wiggins time as he recovered back to his assignment. Though it goes
in, a tightly contested step-back three — which Luka is shooting
just 32.1% on in the postseason — is a result the Warriors can
stomach, especially with one of its smallest defenders (Curry)
involved in the play.
Thus, going at Curry with a slew of straight pick-and-rolls
wasn't particularly profitable in Game 1. Golden State is too
experienced, too disciplined and too even-tempered to be caught
off-guard by opponents repeatedly targetting its superstar. After
all, that's been the game plan since, what, 2015? Steph is
well-versed in evading such narrow offensive game planning.
But Dallas has some unexplored avenues.
One such way could be to mix in more slips to the rim. Below,
after Golden State pre-switches to initially neutralize the
Doncic-Bullock pick-and-roll, Luka calls for a second screen from
Brunson to bring Curry into the fold. When Steph hedges, Brunson
then cuts to the rim instead of flaring out to the perimeter. And
although the possession is smothered by Draymond Green audibling a
switch with Curry and playing some free safety (goodness was he
ever incredible in Game 1!), Dallas was able to get two feet into
the middle of the paint to make decisions.
Flipping the angle of the screen at the very last second, which
is something the Grizzlies did against the
Warriors in the second round, is a counter yet to be tested by
the Mavericks' offense. When Dallas did elect to re-screen in Game
1, it was only because the initial screen failed to
Dallas could also add some intricacy to its pick-and-rolls by
forcing Golden State to navigate secondary screens.
Screen-the-screener (STS) plays were, once again, something the
Grizzlies tinkered with in the
earlier rounds of the postseason, and forcing Curry to navigate an
off-ball screen before being dragged into a ball-screen
for Luka could put him behind the play, thus throwing off the
timing of his hedge.
All Doncic needs is a moment of hesitation to create for himself
or others, so mixing in each of the following— re-screens, slips to
the rim, ram screens and/or STS plays and straight pick-and-roll—to
keep the Warriors on pins and needles could prove to make the
difference going forward.
Sniffing Out the Proper Switches
So yes, scoping out Curry on pick-and-roll-induced switches
didn't go as planned for Dallas in Game 1 given his comfort level
with hedging those plays into oblivion; but that's not to say that
Dallas failed to get any sort of traction when Golden State swapped
assignments after ball screens.
Here's something that should keep
Mavericks fans up at night: Dallas was hunting the wrong Warrior
guard. Poole was tested by both of Dallas' secondary and tertiary
options (Brunson and Dinwiddie), and he looked like a fish out of
water on switches. Collectively, Dinwiddie and Brunson went 2-for-3
from the field when defended by Poole in Game 1.
Dinwiddie is both too tall and too
quick to be even slightly bothered by Golden State's prolific
22-year-old, and Brunson's veteran craft left Poole stumbling.
Jalen's portfolio of pump-fakes, B-Boy dancer pivots and
up-and-unders was one hell of a handful for the third-year
Even when Golden State attempted to
hide Poole with hedges, he just wasn't disciplined enough to
masterfully pull off this coverage with regularity. Here, he
"shows" (or hedges) way, way too high up the floor against Brunson,
who has yet to burn Golden State with pull-up threes, and Poole
ends up getting flambéd in isolation.
Dallas' one-two punch of Doncic and
Brunson also got off some pretty clean looks when served up Kevon
Looney on a platter. Look, Looney had himself one hell of a
Wednesday evening and was maybe the Game 1 MVP, but his lateral
mobility was tested by Dallas' lead options. Take a look for
Dallas should continue to hammer this home in the series. Though
it's admirable that Looney feels empowered to pick up individual
creators of Doncic and Brunson's ilk so high up the floor, his hip
flexibility doesn't afford him the requisite oomph when changing
directions on either player's array of dribbling moves. Doncic
found relative consistency in forcing Golden State rotations and
passing to open shooters after beating Looney off the dribble;
Brunson, meanwhile, danced and jitterbugged his way to his spots to
go 3-of-4 when defended by the Warriors' starting center.
It's integral that Dallas continues to exhaust Curry by
involving him in a never-ending loop of pick-and-rolls. The more
mileage put on his body defensively, the better. But there's also
some value in getting some easy ones against guys like Looney and
Testing Klay Thompson, still fresh off two major injuries, is
inherently not a terrible idea. Doing so by posting him up and
allowing him to use his strong base and 6-6 frame, however, is not
so brilliant. Doncic wasn't able to gain any ground against Golden
State's sturdy wing, and the Mavericks would be better suited
having the bursty Dinwiddie or even the guileful Brunson go at
Thompson in space.
Speaking of Brunson, how often he can make Golden State pay via
pull-up threes should be a major theme in the West Finals. Golden
State regularly went under ball-screens against Brunson, daring him
to shoot, and he responded with a whole bundle of record-scratch
moments. Brunson has shot a combined 30.4% on pull-up
three-pointers in the regular season and the postseason on just 105
total attempts, and if he continues to feign at chucking them up
when the defense drifts underneath screens, Dallas' offense will
sludge itself to death.
The Mavericks are one of those teams where you just wish they'd
incorporate a little more movement into their offense.
Dallas leaves food on the table with screening actions on the weak
side of the floor, and it allows the low man to stay engaged when
helping over should Doncic (or Brunson or Dinwiddie) discover a
crack in the defense. That's particularly problematic against a
team like the Warriors and Green, a hellish secondary defender to
tangle with. Notice how Golden State preoccupies Luka, the low man
in the clip below, with screening action between Wiggins and
Thompson. When Looney slips to the rim, Doncic is late on his
rotation because of the ensuing traffic on the weak
It'd be great if Dallas could incorporate some
of that stuff into their pick-and-roll heavy
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