The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In somber setting after school shooting, Mavericks avoid elimination

Western Conference finals, Game 4: Mavericks 119, Warriors 109

Luka Doncic led the way with 30 points for the Mavericks on Tuesday, but he had plenty of help on this night. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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DALLAS — The video board went dark, the crowd hushed, the teams stood motionless, and the public address announcer’s voice wavered as the show went on, just a few hours after and a few hundred miles away from a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex.

That senseless act of violence, which left at least 19 children dead, loomed over the NBA’s Western Conference finals, leaving Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr to dread the night’s proceedings against the Dallas Mavericks.

“We can’t sit here and just read about it and go, ‘Well, let’s have a moment of silence,’ ” Kerr said at his pregame news conference before taking his spot alongside his fellow coaches and players as the victims and their families were acknowledged shortly before tip-off. “ ‘Yay, go Dubs. Come on, Mavs; let’s go.’ That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go play a basketball game.”

Kerr’s rage as he excoriated politicians for their inaction on gun control and his dismay over repeated mass killings in recent weeks gave way to a flat showing from the Warriors, whose minds seemed to be elsewhere. With a chance to complete a sweep, Golden State instead sleepwalked through a 119-109 Game 4 loss Tuesday night.

“As coaches or players, we have kids,” Mavericks Coach Jason Kidd said. “People in this room have kids. Elementary school. You just think about what could take place with any of your family or friends at a school. This is on-the-run job training. We’re going to try to play the game. We have no choice. The game is not going to be canceled, but we have to find a way to be professional and find a way to win.”

The Mavericks did just that for the first time in the series by getting their perimeter attack on track, building a 17-point lead in the second quarter. After a poor offensive outing in Game 3, the Mavericks hit 11 of 23 three-point attempts in the first half, with Dorian Finney-Smith, Reggie Bullock and Maxi Kleber each connecting multiple times. Dallas finished 20 for 43 from deep — hitting twice as many three-pointers as Golden State (10 for 28) — to win going away.

Luka Doncic, free from carrying the full burden of Dallas’s offense following a pair of 40-point performances, finished with 30 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists. Six Mavericks scored in double figures.

“Our defense was way better today,” said Doncic, who was named to the all-NBA first team Tuesday. “We attacked the paint. Those two things are key. I still believe we can win.”

For Stephen Curry, who spent the first three games spearheading Golden State’s balanced attack, it was a night to reverse roles with his rival headliner. This time, Curry felt Doncic’s burden, finishing with a team-high 20 points to go with five rebounds and eight assists in just 32 minutes as none of his fellow starters had it going.

“[Uvalde] was on everybody’s mind coming into the game,” Curry said. “It’s kind of hard to stay focused on going out and playing basketball knowing what happened in this state. I’ve got kids. I send them to school every day and drop them off. You feel for the parents that are going through what they are going through. I can’t even imagine the pain.”

Adding a layer of complexity to a challenging night, the arena’s roof began leaking at halftime amid a fierce rainstorm, causing water to pool near the Warriors’ bench. Though the ensuing 16-minute rain delay postponed the start of the second half, it didn’t slow Dallas, which scored on its first four possessions after halftime.

“We’ve been there before,” Kidd said. “We’ve had the basket tilted. We’ve had a rain delay before. We’ve been able to execute in both those scenarios. This group doesn’t let anything faze them.”

The Mavericks’ surge to start the second half was the surest sign that the Warriors were off. Golden State had made a habit of dominating after halftime, outscoring the Mavericks in the third quarter by 10 in Game 1, by 12 in Game 2 and by nine in Game 3. Dallas won the period 37-23 in Game 4, opening a 29-point lead that prompted Kerr to rest Curry and the rest of his starters for almost the entire fourth quarter.

In their absence, the Warriors’ reserves cut the Mavericks’ lead to eight with a little more than three minutes remaining, but Doncic snuffed Golden State’s momentum with a driving dunk to restore order. Rookie forward Jonathan Kuminga led Golden State’s last-gasp rally, posting 17 points and eight rebounds, though the frantic finish was quickly forgotten after the buzzer.

“It’s sad the world we live in,” Warriors guard Damion Lee said. “It’s easier to get a gun than baby formula right now. That’s unbelievable.”

The Warriors are one win from their sixth NBA Finals appearance in eight years, but they have struggled to close out opponents in this postseason. In the first round, the Denver Nuggets avoided a sweep with a 126-121 Game 4 victory. In the conference semifinals, the Memphis Grizzlies embarrassed the Warriors in a 134-95 Game 5 laugher.

After both of those losses, the Warriors returned home to San Francisco’s Chase Center, where they are 8-0 in the playoffs, and took care of business. They will hope for a similar outcome in Game 5 on Thursday — and for a few days to process everything that happened in Texas on Tuesday.

“It was sort of an unspoken awareness of what happened today,” Kerr said afterward. “It was a very quiet locker room beforehand. It was difficult to keep perspective on a day like today. But that’s the shock, the grief, the anger. It’s there from all of our guys and I’m sure from everybody in the building.

“I don’t even know how to express the grief that those families are feeling. It’s too much to fathom.”

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