Mavericks set sights on NBA Finals
Note: With a highly entertaining Western Conference finals between Dallas and Oklahoma City now in full swing, we asked Los Angeles Clippers forward Ryan Gomes, a six-year vet who has matched up with both Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant, to break down the action. He looks at Monday's Game 4 win by the Mavericks.
It's kind of hard to say this is over, because anything can happen in sports and I know Oklahoma City is a young, hungry bunch, but Dallas just has this swagger right now. The Mavericks know what's on the line, they know how close they are to the Finals now that they have a 3-1 series lead, and their confidence is really high right now.
I think the Mavs' confidence really increased after they swept the Lakers.
The Lakers were the nemesis of every team going into the season, but the Mavericks overcame that, and they have tremendous confidence now. A lot of this league is about confidence. Right now, they're just willing themselves to win the games.
I was really impressed with Dallas' composure and poise in Game 4. The Mavs are really levelheaded and focused right now, and I think a lot of that has to do with Jason Kidd.
He has really come up with some big plays in this series. Who knows how many years he'll play after this? But right now, he's playing like this might be his last time and he's trying to go out as a champion.
Kidd has become a great standstill shooter. In Game 3, he pump-faked on that shot and got Kevin Durant on the foul. In this game, he let Russell Westbrook get out of the way and then hit the big shot.
Defensively, the play Kidd made on Westbrook at the end was huge. Nine times out of 10, Westbrook gets there or he gets fouled on his way there. But this time, Jason reaches in and gets that ball.
I think it was just instincts. Jason watches a lot of film and I'm sure he's studied Westbrook to know what he likes to do. He's been around for so long, he knows how to play the game and when to gamble. This time it paid off because he got the steal they needed.
The other guy who really stepped up for Dallas was Shawn Marion. I never knew he was a great defender like this. I knew he could move his feet. I knew he was athletic, but when there are only four teams left playing, you see things you might not have seen before because you're watching so much more closely because of what's on the line.
I think we're noticing how good a defender Marion is right now because of what he's doing against one of the best scorers in the league. Durant is still scoring, but at key moments Marion has made some big defensive plays.
I don't know how many players would've gone for the block on Durant on that play at the end of the game. Not a lot. But Marion went for the block, and I think it even surprised Durant.
The other part of it was how much harder it was for Durant to score once James Harden fouled out. The Thunder don't space the floor as well when Harden isn't in there. When he's in the game, he's the primary ball handler. Even when Westbrook is in there, it's better to give Harden the ball sometimes because he's going to make the right play and then Westbrook can do his slash.
Once Harden was out, Dallas was able to load up a lot and kind of overplay Durant. The Mavs knew toward the end of the game that OKC was going to go through Durant. He's a perimeter player; he doesn't really post up much. He catches the ball near the 3-point line most of the time, but when he catches it out there, everybody gets to just load up on him and make the paint smaller and make him settle for jump shots off the dribble.
Oklahoma City came out with the right kind of aggressiveness in the game. The Thunder played the way they're capable of playing, but once again, they had some bad plays in the fourth quarter that now, after the game is over, you'd probably question. Like, "Oh man, I shouldn't have shot that."
I don't think the Thunder have a lot of confidence right now. I think they're down on themselves a little bit. I don't think they overlooked the Mavs, but I think they felt it was a good matchup for them where they could use their speed to beat this veteran team. But the Mavericks have found a way to slow the pace down and play the way they want to play.
Game 5 is going to be about how Dallas executes. If the Mavs execute like they have been offensively and defensively, they'll win.
Dallas and Miami are playing the best right now, that's really it. Confidence-wise, making gritty plays at the end of the game, they're just playing better than everyone else.
Ryan Gomes is the starting small forward for the Los Angeles Clippers. Follow him on Twitter @gotgomes.