With apologies to the Dallas Mavericks, they aren't a particularly talented team relative to the top of the Western Conference. When faced with an overwhelming disadvantage in pure talent, the most pragmatic tacticians begin looking for opponents who play a style that optimizes their own chances of winning. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, as crafty as they come, might begin to look wonderingly at the indestructible fortress the Golden State Warriors have built this season as the season winds down.
Carlisle's Mavericks have a dearth of top-end high-minute talent, but a plethora of mediocre journeyman veterans in Deron Williams, Raymond Felton, J.J. Barea, Devon Harris, Charlie Villanueva, etc; all of whom play their best ball against the Warriors. The Mavericks front office has inadvertently assembled a petrie dish of proverbial thorns in the Warriors side. Perhaps the up-and-down nature is conducive to all of the aforementioned players' preferred pace; perhaps it's simply cosmic linkage between the two franchises to always have one be the poor matchup to the other more dominant cosmic cousin.
It's not quite that the Warriors can't solve the Mavericks. It's not as severe as the inter-team dynamic played out in 2007 when the 67-win Mavericks lost the regular season series and the first-round playoff matchup to the .500-hovering Warriors. The Mavericks can't guard the Warriors, but the Warriors also seem ill-equipped to guard Barea and the rotating cast of diminutive, crafty, midrange-happy guards.
Thus, when it was announced early that legendary post Dirk Nowitzki, wing Chandler Parsons, and guards Devon Harris and Deron Williams -- four fifths of the regular workhorses for the Mavericks -- were all out for the match against the Warriors, the onus was shifted firmly and entirely on the Warriors. A massive underdog on the road and without much reason to believe it should win is a dangerously buoyant, carefree, flammable combination. The favorite in such a match should be prepared to completely smother the underdogs immediately in such a situation, lest they find an errant spark of hope that ignites the entire pyre.
The Warriors failed to smother the Mavericks at the onset of the game, and paid the price with a game that was slightly tougher than it should have been. The struggles came entirely on the defensive end, which was a predictable dilemma to anyone who has seen the two teams play this season. The Splash Bros. of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson went for 40 pts on 21 FGAs at halftime -- but unfortunately their counterparts for the Mavericks, Barea and Felton, had 29 points on 20 attempts over the same timespan. The dilapidated Mavericks hung 58 points at halftime on the Warriors, but still found themselves down 14. Again, neither team can defend the other.
Barea holds himself in a sturdy manner much the same way Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers does. By contrast, Curry, the larger man of all three players, is more times aloof and looser on the floor -- sometimes intentionally so to lull opponents into mistakenly misjudging how tired he is. Because of his sometimes slumped shoulders, Barea and in the past Paul were capable of bulldogging Curry, sometimes even standing in his path when he's walking to high-five teammates going into timeouts. It's an interesting dynamic, which may be indicative of the mental games opponents resort to in an attempt to edge-up Curry.
The Warriors held the reins slightly tauter at times in the third. Curry resumed his season-long pyrotechnics show, with crowd-pleasing bombs and nifty ballhandling. Thompson joined him, setting a new personal best in three-point makes in a season along the way. Draymond Green appeared to have fun out on the court, hitting a few threes and playing active defense. But the Mavericks never really got lost in the rearview mirror. Barea handed off the duties of being unruly hot against the Warriors to Wesley Matthews, who scored 18 points in the quarter.
The Mavericks scored 89 points against the Warriors by the end of the third quarter. This is a team without their top three scorers in terms of pure points per game.
Klay Thompson's incinerating shooting carried over into the final frame, and early on the Warriors surpassed last year's Houston Rockets for most threes in a season (on considerably less attempts in considerably less games) on a deep Klay shot. The Mavericks, this time transposing their frisky shooting into Charlie Villanueva. Harrison Barnes also continued to clank open shots and get stuffed on attempts closer to the rim. While Barnes' shot and timing was not up to "max contract" level, a continuing trend from recent weeks, Barnes made up for it with hustling harder than anyone else on the offensive rebounds.
By the time Stephen Curry checked back into action, the once 18-point lead that had dwindled to 13 by the end of the third had fallen all the way to just six. The Mavericks, with that aforementioned carefree buoyancy, were a team that was impossible to demoralize -- with no expectations, it's hard to be crestfallen about much of anything. In contrast, the Warriors at times looked tight, as the weight of expected performance began to mount. Oracle Arena, in the past the home of many carefree buoyant teams, has an annoying tendency to buzz like an angry hive of bees when the Warriors are not up by 20 points after the first quarter.
It took a final push with under a minute to left for the Warriors to ice away the match with a depleted Mavericks team that, quite frankly, should not have been putting this Warriors team in jeopardy within the final four minutes of the match. It was another incomplete game by the Warriors, a team that has struggled mightily all season to attain it's highest level of performance on a nightly basis.