Gafford and Lively lead strong efforts to slow down Holmgren

On paper, heading into this Western Conference Semifinal series, Oklahoma City center Chet Holmgren had a clear advantage over the Dallas Mavericks’ two-headed center combination of Daniel Gafford and Derek Lively II.

After all, Holmgren is the Thunder’s glorified first-year player who would have been the easy choice to win the Rookie of the Year award this season if not for a San Antonio phenom named Victor Wembanyama. That’s the type of skill Holmgren has and how special he’s become in such a short time.

However, Gafford and Lively have more than held their own against Holmgren in the first three games of this best-of-seven series, which the Mavs lead 2-1.

Holmgren averaged 16.5 points and 7.9 rebounds during the regular season and shot a healthy 53 percent from the field, including 37 percent from beyond the three-point line. So far in this series against the Mavs, Holmgren is averaging 14.3 points and seven rebounds, and has converted just 45.9 percent of his field goals (17 of 37) and just 23.1 percent of his three points (3 of 13). ).

So how was the Mavs defense so effective in making things difficult for one of the Thunder’s best all-around players?

“(We) make him take the shots we want (him) to take and we make sure we pay attention to the details,” Gafford said Sunday. “We’re just trying to give it a different look.”

“There will be times when I guard him, there will be times where most of the guys that are on the floor will guard him like (Derrick) Jones (Jr.), PJ (Washington). It’s just about giving him different looks and giving him different ways to try to get around guys to get to the basket, and just playing good defense. Being there for each other, communicating defensively, and supporting each other.

The Mavs hope to continue to be there for each other to keep Holmgren guessing when they host Game 4 Monday at 8:30 p.m. at the American Airlines Center.

Coach Jason Kidd wants his players to continue playing physical and will hopefully inspire Holmgren to question things on the field.

“I think they’re just making it difficult, moving him to his second or third shot,” Kidd said. “(We) contest the three and try to keep him in front.

“Chet is a very good player who can play inside and outside. We direct several corps to him.

While the Mavs are making it difficult for Holmgren, from a defensive standpoint, he has made it difficult for them as well. After averaging 2.3 blocks per game during the regular season, Holmgren is averaging three blocks in this series, and that includes the four blocks he collected in the Mavs’ 105-101 win on Saturday .

The Mavs are struggling to find ways to get past Holmgren when throwing shots around the basket. He is 7-1 and has a bad wingspan.

“(He has the) ability to change shots, be around the basket and be good at what he does defensively,” Gafford said. “You have to be intelligent against a guy like him because he just blocks everything.

“It’s going to be there no matter how high you jump, no matter how high you throw it around the basket, unless you’re one of the guards throwing it in the air – like one of these little floats. If you’re not trying to dunk the ball, you have to find a way to try and be crafty to get around it, which makes him elite at his position.

Here are some other nuggets surrounding Game 4 between the Mavs and Thunder.

*The Mavs have a great chance to take complete control of this series with a home win on Monday. But the local court does not guarantee anything. “We know it’s not going to be easy,” coach Jason Kidd said. “Oklahoma City is a great team. Well coached. They are the best team in the Western Conference and one of the best teams in the league. For us, it’s not about (going up) 3-1. It’s just about taking each possession and trying to win one possession at a time. We understand that everyone matters, but we just focus on the possession in hand and just try to win it. Teams that lead a best-of-seven series, 3-1, have won that series 95.4% of the time. That 272-13 record includes 4-0 in the first round of this year’s playoffs, when the teams held 3-1 leads in their respective series.

*With a 65-55 lead at 8:33 of the third quarter, the Thunder thought they had control of Game 3. Then, within minutes, the Mavs went on a thunderous 16-0 run and raced ahead . , 71-65, with 4:30 left in the third quarter. “We were a little sloppy offensively with our execution, we turned it over a few times, they got hot, they made shots and converted, so credit them,” the OKC coach said , Mark Daignault. “That was probably the missed opportunity of the game for us. We led by 10 and had a pretty good grip on the game, but we just didn’t accumulate enough quality possessions in this part of the game to extend or maintain the lead. We’re not quite playing at the level that I think we’re capable of right now, which is disappointing in an individual game, but it’s also something we have some capacity for there.

*The Mavs will once again be without Maxi Kleber (right shoulder AC joint separation) and Olivier-Maxence Prosper (left ankle sprain), while Luka Dončić is listed as questionable with a knee sprain. right knee and left ankle pain. Dončić played despite injuries. “I think you see his toughness displayed since the start of the playoffs with injuries, without injuries, with the physical way things are officiated,” coach Jason Kidd said. “His leadership is being tested. But I think you can also see the maturity and ability to lead us to victory on both sides of the ball – offensively and defensively.

*Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the leading scorer in this series with 31 points per game while shooting 47 percent from the field (31 of 66) and 50 percent from three-point range (5 of 10). Gilgeous-Alexander, runner-up to Denver’s Nikola Jokic for this year’s Most Valuable Player award, believes OKC left a lot of points on the field in this series. “I think we can be more precise on both ends of the pitch, in terms of 50-50 balls and communication,” he said. “I think we’re trying to do the right thing. I just think it’s in execution and focus that we can really take a step forward.

*Mavs center Daniel Gafford left Game 2 after hitting his right hand on the backboard while trying to block a shot. And he left Game 3 after colliding with Thunder guard Josh Giddy. In both cases, Gafford was ultimately able to get back into the game. “(Saturday) night I got kind of stabbed a little bit around my shoulder,” Gafford said. (It’s) something I’ve dealt with. I would say the majority throughout the season, there have been a decent number of people who have bumped into both of my shoulders. For me, it’s a bit like a sprained ankle. I just left. I’m a bit of a badass when it comes to most of the injuries I’ve had. It’s not the worst, I’d say, but I can definitely handle the majority of things that happen to me.

*For the Mavs, Luka Dončić often sets the table with his first quarter scoring, and Kyrie Irving often acts as the closer with his fourth quarter scoring. Irving made four of four from the field and had eight points in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s win over the Thunder. Irving often puts defenders in a rotation cycle with dazzling dribbling skills, which are fascinating even to his teammates. “It’s like watching a movie,” center Daniel Gafford said. “I always tell people I’m used to seeing this kind of thing on TV. I’m always in a position where I see good play after good play in the fourth quarter, especially when it really gets going.


When: 8:30 p.m., Monday

Or: American Airlines Center, Dallas


Radio: KEGL 97.1 FM L’Aigle; 99.1 FM Zona MX (Spanish)

X: @DwainPrice

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