In Game 1 against Warriors, Jason Kidd failed to get Mavericks to read the defense the way he could

It was 1992 and Jason Kidd was just a high school student. Being head coach of the Dallas Mavericks was 30 years away. Kidd would go on to become one of the greatest point guards in NBA history. But in 1992, Kidd was that can’t-miss kid at St. Joseph’s in Alameda.

I don’t remember who St. Joe’s played that day. What I remember is Kidd stopping his dribble just over half the pitch and waiting. Assess. Analyzing. Kidd looked at the defense in front of him. Find the weakness. Kidd was playing chess while the other high school kids were playing checkers.

Kidd would take this gift and become a nine-time NBA All-Defensive player. Never will that skill be more in demand than Friday night, when his Mavericks take on the Warriors in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

Oh, that his Mavs could play defense like the Warriors. Kidd could never say this, but as a famous student and practitioner of the art, the man must tip his clipboard in the direction of Golden State.

Kidd knows what any good basketball coach knows: anyone can play defense. Desire and sacrifice are the only requirements. Such a simplistic definition will carry the day through high school and college. In the NBA, another requirement is necessary: ​​athleticism.

That’s Kidd’s challenge right now. How to Understand Golden State’s Defense. No one is more qualified than Kidd, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. The Warriors won Game 1 on Wednesday on defense.

The Mavs made just 11 of 48 three-pointers. Truth be told, some of those first-half shots were fine with little defensive pressure. Dallas missed horribly and Kidd must think – and rightly so – that the chances of that happening again are slim.

But Luka Doncic feels like King Kong on top of the Empire State Building, with planes buzzing around him, trying to bring him down, it has nothing to do with bad luck. Doncic is the Dallas superstar who needs to score and pass like a superstar if the Mavericks hope to upset the Warriors.

Doncic was 6 for 18 from the floor and it wasn’t because of bad luck. It was because of the planes buzzing him, planes like Kevon Looney and Andrew Wiggins. The offense can sell tickets, but like in the NFL, the defense wins games in the NBA. The offense can make a lot of money, but the offense doesn’t reach the Western Conference Finals without desire and sacrifice.

That’s Kidd’s riddle – how to free Doncic. If the Mavs can hit more from behind the arc, it will stretch the defense. If Doncic can hit some bombs, that will help.

During Wednesday night’s game, Doncic rubbed the top of his right shoulder. No mention was made of it during or after the match. A tweak or something more serious? If it matters, another playoff game within 48 hours will reveal it.

Doncic could find solace in the regular season. In the four games against the Warriors this season, Doncic has averaged 31.5 points per game. But playoff basketball is a whole different animal than the regular season. If officials called games the same in the regular season as they did in the playoffs, every game would end at halftime. There would be no more players.

On Wednesday, Doncic’s face was proof of that. A diagonal gash of deep red hollowed his right cheek. Courtesy of Draymond Green, who plays every game as if it were a playoff game. Green also “encourages” his teammates to play every game as a playoff game. This has made him a beloved and needed teammate, but a fool for the players he faces.

How does Kidd handle this? If Draymond is the Energizer Bunny who refuses to let his team relax, AND if the Warriors can crumble on Doncic like a popped ball because his teammates can’t hit a three, the Mavericks are almost gone.

Dallas needs its superstar, but Golden State doesn’t need its superstar, Steph Curry. The Warriors have another superstar, Klay Thompson, and another on the way, Jordan Poole.

Friday’s Game 2 is the pivotal game in this series. Game 1 of any seven-game series is a shakedown game. The teams reveal themselves. Intention. Strategy. Intensity. A starting point to expand or eliminate. Because Golden State has home-court advantage, Dallas could play all three of their home games like the Michael Jordan Bulls and it won’t matter.

Dallas might feel comfortable with those regular-season numbers — the Mavericks defense allowed just 102.4 points at home while allowing 117.4 on the road. But they can’t.

The NBA playoffs are different for one simple reason: the players are awake. For every second. Every game. Every shot. Every word from their coach. No sleepwalking here. It’s not January, folks. The NBA has sold itself a beautiful illusion that can be bought – pay attention and pay your money to what happens in January. Or December. Or November. Pay attention. OK? Now you can forget about it.

The statistics then really have no relevance now. During the season, the Mavericks allowed 15 more points away from home than at home. Never mind. What counts is the fly paper stuck to Luka Doncic at each game. How to prevent desire and sacrifice? How do you defend against this defense, from a team that is in its sixth conference final in eight years?

These are questions for Jason Kidd to answer. As someone who’s been splitting tusks since high school, even Kidd might be losing some sleep over this one.

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Raymond I. Langston