Playing with a sense of urgency and a proverbial will to win, the Dallas Mavericks staved off elimination Tuesday night and left American Airlines Center with a convincing 119-109 triumph over the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 of the conference finals. In avoiding a sweep of this best-of-seven series, the Mavs now trail the Warriors, 3-1, but it is Golden State now feeling the pressure to close the series on its home court.
Game 5 will be Thursday at 8 p.m. in San Francisco. If necessary, Game 6 will be Saturday at 8 p.m. in Dallas, and a Game 7 will be Monday at 7 p.m. in San Francisco.
Luka Doncic led the Mavs with 30 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists, two steals and two rebounds as he celebrated being named to the all-NBA first team earlier in the day. But this time, Doncic got plenty of much-needed help from his friends.
Dorian Finney-Smith finished with 23 points and six rebounds, Reggie Bullock bounced back from an 0-of-10 scoreless night in Game 3 to score 18 points. Also, Jalen Brunson collected 15 points, five rebounds and five assists, Maxi Kleber had 13 points and seven boards, and Spencer Dinwiddie added 10 points and eight assists.
Before Tuesday’s game a moment of silence was held for Michael Coyne, a coach and teacher in the Palestine Independent School District who was killed Sunday night when his vehicle collided with a wrong way driver on I-45 near Wilmer. Two teenagers in Coyne’s vehicle also were injured.
The moment of silence also was for the 19 elementary school students and an adult who were killed by an 18-year old during a Tuesday morning mass shooting in Uvalde.
Once the game started, the Mavs were off and running and playing, building a 28-24 lead after the first quarter, a 62-47 lead at halftime, and a 99-70 cushion at the conclusion of the third quarter. Unlike Game 3 when their shots couldn’t find the intended destination, the Mavs converted 20 of their 43 attempts from behind the three-point line and kept the sellout crowd of 20,810 in a celebratory mood.
“Everybody in that locker room felt like we had more basketball to play,” said Finney-Smith, who made 9-of-13 shots, including 4-of-7 three-pointers. “We just wanted to get the win by any means necessary and I feel like we came out desperate in that first half.
“We just made shots and we also kept getting stops. So we got the chance to play a little faster and we got them open shots early in the shot clock and not like at the end of the shot clock and trying to shoot a bomb.”
The start of the second half was delayed 16 minutes because the AAC roof was leaking. But when things cranked back up again, the Mavs were cranking out one bucket after another as they outscored the Warriors in the third quarter, 37-23.
The hot shooting got so contagious that eight Mavs made at least one three-pointer.
“I feel like we’ve been getting great looks,” Finney-Smith said. “We just got to keep shooting them with confidence. We feel like we know where the shots are going to be at now. We just got to execute the game plan for 48 minutes.”
Coach Jason Kidd said the only difference in Game 4 and Game 3 is that the Mavs shot 40 percent from the field in Game 3, and they shot 50 percent from the floor in Game 4. And Kidd said he knows shots will be there, because the Warriors are mostly playing a zone defense.
“I thought the guys came out no different than in Game 3 and Game 2 in a sense of executing and playing at a high level,” Kidd said. “Making shots is something that we’ve done in those game, and then defensively being able to rebound the ball.
“We had 30 assists. That means we were making shots. Again, being able to score. They’re going to play zone the majority of the game, so that’s going to present a problem for them in a sense of giving up threes, and we were able to capitalize on that tonight.”
There was only hiccup for the Mavs.
After Doncic and the other starters went to the bench to start the fourth quarter, the Warriors’ reserves whittled the Mavs’ lead all the way down to 110-102 with 3:24 remaining following a three-pointer by Kuminga. However, Doncic flew inside for a dunk, Kuminga was charged with an offensive foul after he ran over Brunson, and Bullock buried a three-pointer to extend the Mavs’ lead to 115-102 with 2:42 left.
Asked what he was thinking when the Warriors inched to within eight points of the Mavs, Kidd said: “That they were going to have to put their starters back in, and they did. We did just fine. We won the game. Their starters had to come back in, they cut the lead and our group continued to play, but they had to make a decision and they had to put their guys back in.
“It’s a game of runs. The Warriors are always going to have a big quarter. We did pretty good in the first three (quarters and) they went on a run to start the fourth. There’s no panic. We had a pretty good lead and they had to make a decision and brought their group back in, and they couldn’t get it done.”
And because the Mavs got it done, they live to see another game. And one reason they live to see another day is because for the first time in this series, the Mavs won the rebounding battle by a slim 44-42 margin.
Doncic, who collected 13 points and nine boards by halftime, said this was not a pride game for the Mavs. He added that the Mavs didn’t enter Tuesday’s contest with thoughts of just avoiding being swept by the Warriors.
“I still believe we can win (this series),” Doncic said. “Swept or not swept, at the end if you lose, you lose.
“It doesn’t matter how many (points) you win by. We have to go game-by-game.”
The fact that Bullock was firing darts all night — and Kleber was 5-of-6 from the field — that also helped the Mavs avoid a sweep and gave the Warriors something to think about in the process.
“That’s who they are,” Kidd said, referring to Bullock and Kleber. “That’s their DNA. It’s not about just one game. It’s about the journey. It’s about being able to bounce back, and that’s what they’ve done.
“And they’ve helped us as an overall team to have that DNA of being able to have a bad game and being able to come back and play at a high level. Again, making shots is something we need those two to do and they did that tonight.”
And now the series shifts back to San Francisco, with a shot at bringing the series back to Dallas for a Game 6 on Saturday. And the Mavs hope to follow the message from Bullock’s grandfather – a former boxer – who told him to just come out swinging when his back is against the wall.
In essence, the Mavs still believe they can become the first team in NBA history to fight back from a 3-0 deficit and win a best-of-seven series.
“If you don’t believe (the Mavs can win this series), you might as well just stay home,” said Kleber, who was 2-of-3 on three-pointers. “We come here to win games. Game 2 we had a big (19-point) lead. We should have won the game. We gave it away.
“Game 3, we didn’t shoot the ball well, so we have the power to beat them. Now we just focus on the next game and nothing else.”
Doncic agreed, saying: “We’ve got to believe. I think our defense was way better today and I think we attacked the paint.
“Those two things are key, and that’s what we’ve got to bring to San Francisco.”