Barely three minutes into the Western Conference Finals, Luka Doncic was unintentionally scratched across the face by his defender Andrew Wiggins.
Doncic flinched, but a foul was not called given the light and unobvious nature of their contact.
It did not seem to bother him at the moment as he completed a three-point play on the following possession and it was only when he went to the free throw line that the broadcast crew picked up what had happened to him.
While the incident ultimately played no major part in the outcome of the game, it turned out to be a bad omen of what was to come for the Dallas Mavericks. They were swarmed all night by the pesky defense of the Golden State Warriors as they were relentlessly trapped and forced into contested shots.
After the dust settled, the Warriors handily blew out the Mavericks, 112-87, to open the Western Conference Finals in emphatic fashion at the Chase Center.
Dallas was never able to fully recover from their lackadaisical play at the end of the first quarter that saw them fall behind by 10, 28-18. They managed to trim the Golden State lead to two, 35-33, midway through the second quarter though that turned out to be as close as they would get in Game 1.
The Warriors pulled away and established a nine-point lead, 54-45, heading into halftime. They then unleashed a throwback third quarter run that saw their advantage balloon to a high of 22 points as they cruised to victory.
The young Mavericks understandably looked dazed in the franchise’s first Western Conference Finals appearance since their 2011 title run, where head coach Jason Kidd was still their starting point guard. None of their rotation pieces who attempted at least three shots made more than half of their attempts and they collectively shot 36% on the evening versus Golden State’s 56.1%.
Doncic came into the contest having averaged 31.5 points on 47% shooting, 10.1 rebounds, and 6.6 assists over the first two rounds of the playoffs. He was limited to 20 points on six-of-18 shooting, seven rebounds, four assists, and seven turnovers in Game 1 as the various looks that the Warriors gave him seemed to have caught him off guard.
Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie did not fare any better either as they combined to score only 31 points and shot a mere 11-of-27 from the field.
It was a night to forget for this upstart team, yet there is still a long way to go in this best-of-seven match-up.
While it is safe to expect that Doncic will not play this poorly for the rest of the series, the same cannot be said for Brunson and Dinwiddie who have occasionally become invisible during this playoff run. These three guards will have to perform at their usual level for Dallas to have a fighting chance in this series.
Furthermore, they will also need the strong supporting play of starting forwards Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith as seen in their seven-game series win over the Phoenix Suns in the prior round.
These two-way players are the key for the Mavericks’ hopes of making the NBA Finals as they have drawn the assignment of covering Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Their ability to hit open threes will also go a long way in keeping the defense honest and give their guards enough room to operate.
This Dallas team is much better than the one that showed up for Game 1 and they have already proved their mettle after eliminating the top-seeded Suns. A reversion to the mean should be expected in Game 2 or, at the latest, Game 3 when they return to the American Airlines Center.
Curiously, they also dropped the series opener in the prior two rounds and even fell behind 0-2 versus Phoenix. These Mavericks have shown grit whenever they have faced adversity during these past few weeks and, with the stakes now higher than ever, this showdown with the Warriors should prove to be no different.
Dallas has proven that it is a fool’s errand to count them out when they are down and it is difficult to imagine them playing this abysmally again for the remainder of this series.