The Phoenix Suns had just cut a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead down to six after a made floater from Mikal Bridges with a little over seven minutes left in Game 4 on Sunday. Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd called for a timeout with his team dangerously close to surrendering a lead it had at one point built up to 17 points in the first half. The Mavericks know there isn't a ton of room for error against a Suns team that recorded 64 wins in the regular season, and had already put together two dominant performances in the first two games of this series to get out to a 2-0 lead.
Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic quickly extended the lead back to an eight-point cushion after the timeout. But an eight-point advantage against a Suns team with the second-best offense in the playoffs might as well be nothing, even if Chris Paul had already fouled out at this point. This was the time for the Mavericks to try and put enough distance between them and the Suns to force Phoenix to wave the white flag. Typically that would call for the heroics of Doncic, but the player who actually led that spark was Dorian Finney-Smith.
In a span of 45 seconds, Finney-Smith put up six points (increasing his total to 24 points in the game), a steal and a rebound to help extend Dallas' lead from eight to 14 points.
"He was aggressive. He didn't hesitate when he touched it," Kidd said after the game. "When he's playing like that, when he's aggressive and not thinking about the shot, and just catch and shoot he's as good as anyone, and we needed that lift."
The sixth-year forward, who was lauded on social media during the game as an underrated player in the league, drilled back-to-back 3s, something that didn't even seem like a possibility when he entered the NBA as an undrafted rookie back in 2016.
"I can remember early in my career [Rick] Carlisle telling me 'don't shoot 3s unless it's late in the shot clock,'" Finney-Smith told reporters after the game. "Now they're telling me to shoot it as soon as I get a good look. It's just a testament to the work I've put in, and a testament to the work everybody on the team sees me put in."
If you've watched the Mavericks since Finney-Smith has been on the team, then you know how significant his improvement has been, specifically his 3-point shooting. He went from shooting 29.3 percent on 3s his rookie year on just 2.4 attempts per game, to sinking shots from downtown at a 39.5 percent clip on 5.4 attempts this season.
Finney-Smith's 3-point progression: Regular season
In the playoffs over the last three years, he's been even more efficient from beyond the arc for the Mavericks.
Finney-Smith's 3-point progression: Playoffs
Finney-Smith's development as a spot-up shooter has been paramount to the Mavericks' success this season, and more importantly in the last two games of this series. In the Game 4 win on Sunday, his eight made 3s became a new career high for the undrafted product. Expecting Finney-Smith to even make two 3s in a game four years ago seemed like wishful thinking, so the fact that he's taking (and making!) heat-check 3s in a high-pressure situation for the Mavericks in the postseason feels unimaginable.
But now he's getting spoon-fed the ball out on the perimeter off dribble kickouts from Dallas' array of guards, and encouraged by Doncic to shoot the ball when he has a good look. Because of his improved shooting, Finney-Smith is making opponents pay for leaving him unattended in the corners -- something he wasn't capable of a few years ago.
In the playoffs this year he's attempted a total of 72 3-pointers over 10 games. Fifty of those 3s have come without a defender within six feet of him, and he's knocking them down at a 48 percent clip. His 40 percent clip from long range during the regular season ranks in the 88th percentile amongst forwards, and his 59.7 effective field goal percentage ranks in the 93rd percentile among forwards.
With Finney-Smith on the floor, the Mavericks are 6.3 points per possessions better on offense than when he sits, the best mark of any Dallas starter this season. He's second to only Doncic on 3-point attempts this season, and is second behind Reggie Bullock in 3-point percentage. That's a far cry from his first few years in the league where defenders sagged off him, daring him to take a shot from behind the arc.
When asked after Game 3 if he still thinks about those days where it was common to see him go 1 for 5 or 0 for 6 from deep, Finney-Smith smiled, laughed and said "No, I don't think about that no more." Given the way he's been shooting the ball in the playoffs, Finney-Smith deserves to laugh off those early-career shooting struggles, because his continued improvement on offense each season has been a key piece in why Dallas is tied at two games apiece with the top-seeded Phoenix Suns right now.