The Mavericks will have to do something nobody’s ever done in NBA history.
Or else, their magical season will be history.
They fell into the dreaded 3-0 hole in the Western Conference finals Sunday night as Steph Curry, Andrew Wiggins and the Golden State Warriors smothered the cold-shooting Mavericks and took a 109-100 victory at American Airlines Center.
The Mavericks shot just 28.9 percent from 3-point range – and needed a relative hot streak (4-of-11) in the fourth quarter to get their percentage that high.
They were outrebounded 47-33 and they gave up 18 second-chance points.
That’s a recipe for falling into the sort of abyss from which nobody’s ever crawled out.
They have to win Game 4 on Tuesday at AAC to avoid a sweep and push the series back to San Francisco for a Game 5.
“You can’t give them second opportunities,” coach Jason Kidd said. “And they’ve been here before. They understand what they had to do and they did it tonight – 18 second-chance points against the Warriors just puts you in a bad situation and when you’re not shooting the ball straight, it puts a lot of pressure on your defense.
“To give up 109 to a very offensive-minded team, you should have a chance to win. This wasn’t so-called their best game, but they found a way to win.”
The Warriors led by a point after the first half and never trailed in the second. A poor third-quarter put the Mavericks behind the 8-ball. They showed urgency in the fourth quarter when they actually started attacking the rim and cut the lead to 89-83.
But the Warriors scored the next six points, including Andrew Wiggins’ monster throw-down over Luka Dončić, a play that originally was called for an offensive foul on Wiggins but was reversed after Golden State challenged the call.
That took the wind completely out of the Mavericks and AAC. Wiggins was on his way to a 27-point, 11-rebound night.
And it put Kidd and Dončić in a reflective mood afterward.
“I know you guys had us winning the championship before the season started,” Kidd said sarcastically. “But this is a lot bigger than just this one game or this series. This is huge for our franchise because none of you guys had us here. You guys are all supposed to be on vacation.
“It’s cool to go through this. And we’re going against, you can call it a dynasty. I saw this in San Antonio. This is a great lesson learned for us. This isn’t the end. This is just the beginning of the journey. And we’ll be ready to go for Game 4.”
The Mavericks obviously don’t want the season to end in front of the home fans. And a possession-by-possession mentality is all they can lean on.
“It’s going to be difficult,” said Dončić. “Every game is going to be really difficult. It’s not over yet, but it’s not going to be easy. The Warriors are not going to give you anything easy. We’re learning a lot and we’re still learning.
“Nobody had us being here in the conference finals. I think the Warriors are playing incredible. Everybody knows their role. Everybody stays together. They’ve been together for a lot and they’re playing great basketball. These past three games have been really difficult.”
Golden State, which got 31 points and 11 assists from Curry, now has won at least one road game in 26 consecutive playoff series.
Going down 3-0 in an NBA playoff series is like poison, pure and simple. Nobody has ever recovered, and only a handful of teams that lose the first three games have rallied to force a Game 7.
Portland did it against the Mavericks in 2011.
But it doesn’t happen often.
So scratching out a win on Sunday night was paramount. But it didn’t happen.
The Warriors take great pride in their prowess on the road, especially in the playoffs. They have had at least one road win in 25 consecutive series. It’s part of their DNA.
The Mavericks got 40 points and 11 rebounds from Luka. And they got 26 points off the bench from Spencer Dinwiddie and 20 from Jalen Brunson.
But the rest of the team came up with only 14 points. Reggie Bullock was 0-for-10 from the field, Maxi Kleber 0-for-5.
“You look at the three guys who scored, that’s just not enough against the Warriors,” Kidd said. “You need a lot more guys to participate offensively. We’re getting good looks, they’re just not dropping. We’re a jump-shooting team. We’re going to live and die by the three.
“But we’re also dying by not getting rebounds and giving them second opportunities.”
The Mavericks fell to 2-6 in playoff games when Luka scores 40 or more. Clearly, finding a better balance would be a good thing.
And Dončić said that it’s not completely an indictment on the Mavericks for taking 45 3-pointers and only 30 shots inside the arc. They only scored 34 points in the paint (the Warriors had 46).
“It’s tough. They’re collapsing a lot in the paint,” he said. “Sometimes, they’re just making us shoot threes. Every time I drive, I see a lot of players in the paint. It’s tough.”
The result is that the Mavericks find themselves up against the wall. But it’s hard to fault anybody when it comes to this 3-0 hole against the Warriors. This remains a relatively young team that is on the rise.
“I’m still learning,” Luka said. “After this season is done, whenever (that is), we’ll look back and we learned a lot of things. It’s my first time in the conference finals. I’m 23, man, I’m still learning a lot.”