It appears all you have to do if you want to beat the Warriors is remove Stephen Curry from the equation. Dallas was fortunate enough to stumble into last night’s game with last season’s MVP and greatest three-point shooter of all time trapped on the sidelines as an observer, and the ripple effect throughout the team was clearly visible from the start. It turns out that the best team in the NBA is a pushover without their best player.
I’m exaggerating, of course. Less than two weeks ago, I wrote a scathing post about the Warriors and how they were wrong to attack the Bucks for celebrating when they broke up the champs’ record-setting winning streak to open the season. To summarize, I felt like they were a self-righteous bunch that needed to tone down their own celebrations before getting too offended about the celebrations of others. I then concluded that they were unbeatable and that I would relish all five losses they were sure to endure over the course of the season. I never expected one of those five losses to come at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, Curry or not.
Now, do I think the Mavericks win this game with Curry in the lineup? Probably not, but the Warriors are flush with depth even without him. Klay Thompson is a better shooter than anyone not named Stephen Curry, and Draymond Green is a monster on both ends of the floor and a legitimate triple-double threat every game. Golden State is also dealing with other injuries, most notably to forward Harrison Barnes, but even with a hobbled roster, this group is a serious threat and still good enough to scare the shit out of every team in the league. The Warriors and their fans need to tread very carefully when it comes to suggesting that beating them without Curry playing isn’t a big deal. That doesn’t succeed in taking anything away from the winner; it just insults the loser.
All that said, Thompson and Green were both abysmal from the field last night, combining to shoot 8-for-30, and chances are good those numbers would look a lot better with Curry in there to draw attention away from them. Only in the event that Stephen, too, was off in Wednesday night’s game would Dallas have been likely to squeeze out a win had he played, and that just isn’t likely. It appears that the Mavericks caught Golden State at the perfect moment, and they didn’t hesitate to put the knife in. Dallas finished with a 23-point advantage, and they led by as many as 30 at one time.
As a result, the Mavs ascend to a season-high six games over .500 (19-13) and run their winning streak to four straight. This feels especially satisfying in the wake of defeating the Warriors, something very few teams are going to be able to say they did when the season is over. No player had a bigger impact on the game than J.J. Barea, who went back to setting the court aflame in his stretch of replacing Deron Williams better than anyone could have dreamed. After managing just 8 points in the previous game, Barea knocked down another five three-pointers and finished with 23 points and 6 assists.
He had plenty of help. Despite shooting just for 6-for-15, Dirk Nowitzki added 18 points and 8 rebounds, and Zaza Pachulia put up yet another double-double with 14 points and 15 rebounds. At this point, it’s safe to say Zaza is having a career season at the age of 31, which is just bizarre as hell for an NBA player — or any professional athlete, really. Maybe if the big Georgian was a golfer, peaking at 31 would make some sense, but they don’t make clubs long enough for the 7-footer anyway.
In the end, Dallas shot 51.2 percent from the field, and they were even better from downtown. The Warrior players could only shake their heads at the number of tough shots their opponent nailed, and if it weren’t for a buzzer that sounded a fraction of a second too soon, a half-court heave from Devin Harris would have been added to that list.
The basketball gods were very kind to the Mavericks last night, and it’s good to be an MFFL right now. In the end, the team they beat will finish the season as back-to-back champions, and no one will remember some random mid-season loss when the best player wasn’t even able to suit up, but right now it’s another win for a team that needs every one of them. It makes it all that much better that it came against an opponent that no one expects to beat.