These Conference Finals have not gotten any less weird. It was literally raining inside American Airlines Center due to a heavy downpour outside of the building, which caused a delay before the start of the second half. Then one of Draymond Green’s free throws got stuck on the back of the rim (seen here), which I’m not sure I’ve seen before, but I guess the most important part is that we still have four teams left in contention for a title after the Mavs took care of the Dubs in Tuesday’s Game 4. I would have said “easily” taken care of them before the fourth quarter started, but the Dubs got to within eight points with less than four minutes left out of absolutely nowhere, however it was too late. Dallas did their thing and choked a big lead, but luckily it was big enough to hold on to this game and to their playoff lives. I’ll break down a not-so-exciting Game 4 that kept Dallas in contention, along with a look at tomorrow’s ECF Game 5 and finally the reveal of the All-NBA teams.
Mavericks 119, Warriors 109 (GSW leads series 3-1)
The Mavs finally, finally got one. They really didn’t want to get swept and dominated almost all night, with their 20 made triples, 50% shooting and only eight turnovers all being reasons for the success they had on Tuesday. They did lose the fourth quarter by 19 points which almost led to to a Warriors comeback, but they had some wiggle room being up as many as 29 points. Who else but three-time All-NBA First-Team selection Luka Dončić led the way, and while he didn’t shoot the ball well (10-of-26 FGs, 7-of-10 FTs), he still posted a huge line consisting of 30 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists, two steals, two blocks, three 3-pointers and three turnovers in 37 minutes. He tied Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant for second-most 30-point playoff games (21) at 23 years of age or younger, and he’s truly doing all he can to keep Dallas alive. However, he finally had some help in Game 4. Dorian Finney-Smith drained 9-of-13 shots for a 23/6/2 line with four triples, and this was after he scored 24 total points over the first three games of the series, so this was a very welcome sight. However, I could argue that the even better story is Reggie Bullock, who missed all 10 of his shots in Game 4 (0-of-7 from deep) but came alive in Game 4 with 18 points and six triples in 38 minutes. I did expect him to bounce back, but not in this big of a way, and he was a big reason why his team is able to play a Game 5. Sure, he only added two boards and two assists otherwise, but the Mavs probably don’t care about anything fantasy/DFS-related right now. Jalen Brunson was on the quieter side with a 15/5/5 line with a block and a triple in 34 minutes, but Maxi Kleber was one of the other huge parts of the victory. Kleber played 22 minutes off the pine and made all but one of his six shot attempts, recording 13 points, eight rebounds, two assists, one steal, three blocks, two triples and no turnovers to round out a 9-cat gem. Kleber was sitting at 2-of-14 from deep in this series before Game 4, but he drained two triples in his first two minutes to match that number immediately. Spencer Dinwiddie didn’t have his shot going with 10 points on 2-of-7 shooting, but he did a pretty good job facilitating with his eight dimes to go with three rebounds, one steal, two 3-pointers and three turnovers in 28 minutes. Dinwiddie doesn’t have to score 20+ every night to be successful, as I truly think it’s a matter of the “other” guys at least being semi-productive: DFS, Bullock and Kleber are the first names I think of, and it’s no coincidence that they all enjoyed nice games and the Mavs got the fairly easy win. Rounding out Dallas’ side of the box score are Davis Bertans (five points, five rebounds, one assist, one triple in 10 minutes), Frank Ntilikina (5/1/1/1 with a triple in 17 minutes) and Dwight Powell (one rebound in 12 minutes of a start -- he may be the worst Conference Finals starter ever).
If we’ve learned anything from this series, it’s that the Warriors never go down easy. It looked like they were throwing in the towel after the score was 99-70 at the end of the third quarter, but Golden State’s bench unit made an incredible run that disallowed the Mavs from getting Luka and other main guys some extra rest before Game 5 on Thursday. Stephen Curry led the charge with 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting, also tallying five rebounds, eight assists, one steal, two 3-pointers and two turnovers in 33 minutes. Curry was the highest scorer on his team, which could either tell us the team was well-balanced in the scoring column or the game wasn’t too close (I’d argue both were the case). Starters Klay Thompson (12 points, two triples, two steals), Draymond Green (10/6/6 with two blocks) and Andrew Wiggins (13/5/1 with a triple) all shot the ball well from the field, but the trio only took 29 shots total. Sure, they all played between 26-31 minutes, which is on the lower side, but that amount of shots still leaves some aggressiveness to be desired (for what it’s worth, Draymond took eight of the shots, so he wasn’t a total outlier). The real story of the night for the Warriors was Jonathan Kuminga, who got some extended run with Otto Porter (left foot soreness) out of the lineup and thrived with 17 points (5-of-11 FGs, 6-of-8 FTs), eight rebounds, one assist, one 3-pointer and two turnovers in 22 minutes. This was far from a garbage time special, as Kuminga got in the game in the first quarter after playing five total minutes in Games 1-3, and was able to score seven points with five rebounds by halftime. He had a couple of bad misses but all in all made better decisions than we’ve seen, so maybe Steve Kerr gives him a few minutes a night even when Porter returns. Jordan Poole was decent off the bench with 14 efficient points, four dimes, one swat and two triples in 29 minutes, while rookie Moses Moody had his best game of this series by far with 10 points, two rebounds, two steals and two trey-bombs in 23 minutes. Kevon Looney started again but scored just three points with six boards and a block in 20 minutes, while Damion Lee got more minutes than usual and produced six points with six boards in 15 minutes. The Warriors will have yet another chance to close out the Mavs on Thursday and advance to the NBA Finals, but this time, the momentum factor will not be on their side.
Wednesday’s Game - Celtics @ Heat (Game 5)
This series is tied at two wins apiece, but the way each of these two teams got here hasn’t been pretty. There has been a 20-point lead in all four games thus far and a 30-point lead in two of them, so it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen next. There are plenty of injuries to report as well, and starting with the Celtics, Marcus Smart (right ankle sprain) and Robert Williams (left knee soreness) are questionable to play. Smart missed Game 4 on Monday with the ankle issue and he sat out the right game given the Heat starters forgot how to play basketball, whereas Williams did play in Game 4 but only 19 minutes before checking out in the third quarter and was clearly limping a bit. On Miami’s side, Kyle Lowry (left hamstring strain), P.J. Tucker (left knee irritation), Max Strus (right hamstring strain) and Gabe Vincent (left hamstring strain) are all questionable, but I’d expect all of them to suit up given they did last game. The fifth and final questionable tag belongs to Tyler Herro, who missed Game 4 with a left groin strain and is a very interesting case. Apparently Herro is carrying the type of injury that could take 2-to-4 weeks to heal, but the goal for Herro is to return sometime this week, so it’s really tough to tell how he’s feeling and/or if he’ll give it a go tomorrow. He could very well be a true game-time decision, but if he plays, hopefully he doesn’t make it worse by coming back so soon. Maybe, just maybe, this game will go down to the wire for once -- I can’t be the only one not a fan of these consistent blowouts, right?
All-NBA Teams (players listed in order of most votes received)
Giannis was the only player to receive all 100 First-Team votes, with Luka and Jokic receiving 88 apiece, Booker 82 and Tatum 49. Keep in mind that positions do indeed matter, which is the only reason Joel Embiid could have possibly made the second team. Not only did he not receive the MVP award in a season when it seemed like it was his to lose, but it was the same Serbian big man that beat him out in the MVP race and the All-NBA race. There’s a ton of stuff to say about this from a financial standpoint, including Devin Booker and KAT now eligible to sign supermax extensions worth around $211 million for four years, and Trae Young earning an additional $35.4 million in his rookie scale contract, among others. Seeing all of Steph, KD and LeBron not on the First Team does seem weird, but I’ve said in other pieces before how good of hands the league is in at this very moment -- the average age of the First Team is 25.2 years old, with Jokic and Giannis being the oldest in the group at just 27 years old. LeBron’s record of 18 All-NBA selections has been extended, whereas this is the first ever selection for both Trae Young and Ja Morant, who just finished their third and fourth seasons, respectively. Also a nice fun fact: there have only been 46 total instances of a player getting left out of the All-Star Game but making an All-NBA team, and Pascal Siakam just joined that club (other recent instances were Jimmy Butler last year and Rudy Gobert in 2016-2017 and 2018-2019).