2024 NBA Finals: For Luka Dončić and the Mavericks, a little help could go a long way

Following his team's Game 2 loss in the NBA Finals, Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said, "We've got to find someone to join Luka [Dončić] and Kyrie [Irving] in that scoring category," and that's an understatement.

The Mavericks, who trail the series, 2-0, also need more scoring from Irving, but the other shooters in their rotation — P.J. Washington, Derrick Jones Jr., Maxi Kleber and Josh Green — averaged a combined 28 points on 37.7% shooting (15.8 3P%) through the first two games of the Finals. During three previous playoff rounds, those four averaged more points per game (33.2) on higher efficiency (45.1 FG%, 38.1 3P%).

During the regular season, they averaged 32.9 points per game on 46.2% shooting (34.8 3P%).

What is most interesting about those numbers: Their production through three rounds of the playoffs — upset wins over the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves — was not exceptionally outlying, though their 3-point percentage improved from below average to well above.

Jun 9, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward P.J. Washington (25) shoots the ball against the Boston Celtics during the third quarter in game two of the 2024 NBA Finals at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
P.J. Washington is 0-for-7 on open 3s in the NBA Finals so far. (Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports)

What has been outlying is their shooting during the NBA Finals. That foursome missed 16 of their 18 attempts from 3-point distance when no defender was within 4 feet of each shot in the first two games of the series, per the NBA's tracking data. That the Mavericks only generated nine open 3s per game for those four should also be a concern. They averaged 13.7 open attempts per game in the regular season.

"Just one thing: Keep shooting," Dončić reminded his role players Tuesday. "We all believe in those shots. That's how we came to the Finals. That's how we played the whole season. We believe in those guys. Everyone believes. If you're open, just keep shooting. You're going to knock it down at some point."

Not only are they shooting worse against Boston; they are shooting less. Specifically, the Celtics have all but eliminated one of Dallas' most productive shots — the corner 3-pointer. The Mavericks finished 37.5% of their 12.2 corner 3s per game in the first three rounds of the playoffs, generating 13.8 points a night from the corners. They are just 2-for-8 total from the same locations in the first two games of this series.

In fact, the Celtics are daring Dončić and Irving to feed everyone but Washington. Many attempts from Jones, Kleber and Green are open because Boston wants them open. Boston feels comfortable hedging off them, crowding driving space for Dallas' stars and diverting shots above the break. The Mavericks do not look confident in response, preferring Dončić's iso 3s to his drive-and-kick opportunities for others.

However you slice it, the Mavericks are leaving roughly 10 points per game on the table from their spot-up shooters, enough to make a game of the series-opening blowout and close the gap entirely in Game 2.

Can they narrow the divide? Role players play better at home, as the saying goes. Except, for those hoping Washington, Jones, Kleber and Green come to life in Dallas, there is not a ton of evidence to support that idea. They combined to shoot 35% on open 3s both at home and on the road during the regular season. They were slightly better at home (40%) than on the road (38%) in the first three rounds of the playoffs, though both numbers are a significant improvement from their regular-season averages.

Still, they almost have to be better than the 2-for-18 clip they yielded on open 3s in the first two games of the series. Even their regular-season averages would have meant a couple more 3s per game. That may not sound like much, but when Dallas is a 2.5-point betting favorite at BetMGM, six points would be a heck of a swing.

"We felt in Game 2 we had opportunities we just let get away from us ... but the cliché is role players play better at home, so we'll see," Kidd told reporters on Tuesday, seemingly content with his team's looks.

Jones could be the key to unlocking the Mavericks' offense. On open 3s during the regular season, he shot 40% at home and 30% on the road. That discrepancy widened to 50% at home and 30% on the road in the first three rounds of the playoffs. He is down to 20% (1-for-5) on his open 3s in TD Garden.

Washington may be worse (0-for-7) on open 3s in the Finals, but at least the Celtics are respecting his attempts. Make a couple at home, and Jones could draw a defender, opening lanes for Dončić and Irving.

It is all tied together. The better the Mavericks' role players shoot, the more space their stars have to score. The worse everyone else shoots, the less space Dončić and Irving have to operate. This is how a team that scored 117 points per 100 possessions during the regular season and 115.2 points per 100 possessions in the Western Conference playoffs can dip to 100 points per 100 possessions vs. Boston.

Just ask the Celtics about how much of their offense is generated from spacing. Of course, it helps that every member of their rotation is a 3-point threat, and that is not changing over the course of this series.