It’s hard not to look back at Game 4 and see it as the one that got away for the Dallas Mavericks.
After trailing by 12 points at halftime, Dallas utilized a 39-24 third quarter, in which it shot 80 percent from three (8-10), to grab a 3-point lead heading into the fourth. In the fourth quarter, what was a sweet-shooting game quickly divulged into a rock fight — with no team itching to score. Until Luka Doncic’s magic happened. But Dallas’ good graces didn’t last long. Dwight Powell missed two free throws with less than a minute left, and then Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert made amends on the lob that sealed the Mavericks’ fate. What was a prospectus 3-1 series lead, in a matter of moments, shifted to a 2-2 series tie, as Dallas let Game 4 slip away 100-99.
“We had some great looks,” Jason Kidd said. “We got to the free-throw line and just didn’t make them… Now we have to go home and protect our home court.”
Doncic’s return to the court
In Doncic’s return, he scored 30 points. For a man nursing an injured calf, two weeks away from conditioning and the stakes of going up 3-1 in a series for the first time in his career, Doncic played poised. He was efficient (52 percent from the field and 40 percent from three).
“It felt great to be back,” Doncic said.
He looked every bit the superman Dallas missed but didn’t necessarily need. And despite Doncic’s heroics, his efforts were wasted on missed free throws and blown pick and roll coverage when the game mattered most.
“We didn’t execute it well,” Doncic said. “We had a game, now it’s 2-2, and we have to learn from it.”
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Dallas’ late-game blunder
Despite Gobert’s late-game dunk and the previous missed free throws by Powell, Dallas still had a shot to win the game.
With 11 seconds left, Kidd called a timeout. Out of the break, everyone watching knew the ball was going to Doncic — the Jazz included. That’s why they doubled him. And as quickly as Kidd drew up the play, it broke down resulting in a 25-foot 3-point attempt by Spencer Dinwiddie, who on the night shot 22 percent from the floor (2-9) and 20 percent from three (1-5).
The play design was the look Kidd wanted. After the game, he doubled down in defense of its use.
“Spencer has made that shot before from Luka,” Kidd said. “We got what we wanted, the shot just didn’t go down for us.”
What else is he supposed to say? Admitting that Dinwiddie taking the game-winning shot while shooting 20 percent from three — with Doncic cooking — was a bad decision would be admitting defeat for Kidd.
However, though Kidd remains confident in his late-game play design, it’s ill-advised to have the fate of a probable 3-1 series lead cemented by the player averaging 16 points while shooting 18 percent from three in the playoffs.
Nonetheless, Kidd’s story is the story Dallas tells itself because it is an easier pill to swallow. Fine by them. But reality says Game 4, in Utah, and the Jazz on the ropes, with Doncic cooking, is the game that got away.
Momentum can shift in an instant. 3-1 is drastically different than 2-2. And 2-2 is the number Dallas will have to live with until Game 5.
“We just focus on the next one,” Jalen Brunson, who scored 23 points, said. “We just got to bounce back and play our brand of basketball.”
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Feature image via Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports.