The Dallas Mavericks and the Golden State Warriors couldn't be
more different if they tried.
In one corner, you have the #BeautifulGame Warriors. Post splits
and cuts galore. Glorious ball movement heightened by the
hide-and-seek skills of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan
Poole. All three can boogie on you to varying degrees, but they're
at their best when they're moving targets. You can't defend what
you can't stay connected to.
The Warriors with Curry on the court blitzed the league to the
tune of 116.0 points per 100 possessions
during the regular season, a mark that would've led the NBA. In the
129 minutes that Curry, Poole and Thompson shared the floor, that number
rose to 125.6.
On the other end, you have the methodical Mavericks. Luka Doncic
leads the dance — he slightly trailed Joel Embiid for the NBA's
usage rate title (37.5% to 36.8%), and is blowing away everyone
this postseason (39.3%). While the Warriors dice you up with cuts
and movement, the Mavericks make you pick your poison with
There is variety in the Dallas half-court
attack. You'll see pindowns, stagger sets and Veer action for
Reggie Bullock, for example. Even with those ball-screens, they'll
flow between traditional high pick-and-rolls, Spain pick-and-rolls
and sets that include an exit screen to further place strain on
help defenders. A quick example:
That's nasty stuff from Dallas. Bullock as the lone shooter on
the weak side to stress Tyrese Maxey as a helper. Jalen Brunson
receiving the exit screen from Dorian Finney-Smith to occupy Seth
Curry and Tobias Harris. It's a tough scene.
Luka-led offense is elite in its own right. The Mavs generated
115.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor during the
regular season — slightly below the Curry-led figure, but still a
number that would've topped the NBA if extrapolated.
Both teams will need to find answers, obviously.
Dallas found the right blend of switching, soft hedges and
all-out traps to stifle the Phoenix Suns' vaunted half-court
offense; the Warriors are a different challenge. Golden State has
had to deal with a dynamic primary ball-handler already in Ja
Morant, but Luka's size and passing ability throws a wrench into
While both teams approach offense differently, a common ground
was found defensively during the regular-season meetings: Hunting
The Warriors were relentless. Doncic defended 65 picks
(16.3 per game) in their meetings, with Golden State generating
1.05 points per possession (PPP) on those trips, per Second
Spectrum. Only the Utah Jazz (23.3 per game), funny enough, went
after him more frequently.
Curry "only" guarded 57 picks (14.3 per game) as the
screener-defender during the regular-season series, with the
Mavericks generating 1.00 PPP. The Clippers (12.3), Nets (11.0) and
Heat (10.0, one game) were the only other teams to target him more
than 10 times per contest.
Keep an eye on those Spain pick-and-rolls from the Mavericks.
Well communicated switches are a way to contain the action, but how
willing are the Warriors to do that when Bullock — Curry's likely
matchup — is the back-screener?
You can see the cat-and-mouse above. It's common for the two
perimeter players — in this case, Curry and Wiggins — to switch.
But because the Warriors don't want to give that, it's a quick
stunt-and-recover from Curry. Doncic is able to string it out while
maintaining inside leverage on Wiggins, thus drawing the foul on
If show-and-recover is going to be the move, it'll be up to the
Mavs to counter that. Doncic is good enough to drive past or string
out that hedge, but there are built-in scheme things to do. With
Bullock being a good movement shooter, don't be surprised if we see
flare screens for him.
This is a poor rep, but the template is clear — make Curry work.
If Dwight Powell is able to connect on the flare screen, Bullock
should have a open three, especially with Kevon Looney in a drop.
If Looney steps up, that should be a drive opportunity for Bullock,
or, if Curry switches onto Powell, it should be an opportunity for
the ball to swing back to Doncic to set up another ball-screen.
For the Warriors, they may be able to attack that matchup a
little cleaner. Doncic was often in a bit of a drop, or outright
switched when they went after him. That could open up rolls or
slips, particularly if they empty the corner first.
They may also opt to keep their flow going. Doncic switching
onto Curry is one thing; doing so then asking him to track him off
ball is another thing entirely. If there's a positive to take from
the Suns series, it's that making him navigate multiple actions
within a possession can generate some goodness.
There's plenty to discuss about how these superstars will be
defended. Bullock or Finney-Smith will see plenty of Curry. Andrew
Wiggins will likely start on Doncic, but we may see some Klay or
Draymond Green mixed in.
But the most important battleground of the series is shaping up
to be how they guard — specifically, how they
guard each other.