Lowe: How Luka, Kyrie and the Mavericks are swarming their way to the Western Conference Finals

The Mavs have allowed 109.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs against the league's No. 3 and No. 4 offenses -- a mark that would have ranked second-best in the regular season. And there's nothing fluky under the hood. This is real. Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

The only players who appeared for the Dallas Mavericks in the conference finals two seasons ago playing in this second-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder are Luka Doncic and Josh Green; Green logged a grand total of 121 postseason minutes in 2022.

In about 20 months, the Mavericks remade almost their entire team around Doncic and have somehow -- at great cost to their stash of draft picks -- arrived within one game of returning to the conference finals for the second time in three seasons. The most important commonality between those teams: elite defense around Doncic.

Maxi Kleber was a keystone of that 2022 run; he's currently injured, robbing the Mavs of their only viable stretch center and one of their most versatile defenders. It hasn't mattered. The Mavs have strangled the league's No. 3 offense behind a defense that is huge, switchable, ultraconnected, and capable of more schematic complexity than perhaps it appeared when the Mavericks paid a high price to acquire both P.J. Washington Jr. and Daniel Gafford at the trade deadline.

The Thunder facilitated the Mavs' acquisition of Gafford; in exchange for the right to swap first-round picks with Dallas in 2028, Oklahoma City supplied the Washington Wizards -- Gafford's former team -- with a 2024 first-round pick. (Washington, meanwhile, was one of my favorite theoretical trade targets for Oklahoma City.)

The Mavs have allowed 109.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs against the league's No. 3 and No. 4 offenses -- a mark that would have ranked second in the regular season. This is the continuation of a late-season trend; the Mavs were a top-10 defense after the trade deadline, and No. 1 in their final 15 games.

There is nothing much fluky under the hood. The Mavs' postseason opponents have hit 35% on 3s -- about league average. The Thunder check in at just 33%, but the Mavs have snuffed most of the highest-quality looks. Dallas has been decent on the glass and very good at avoiding fouls. The Mavs don't force many turnovers, but that's partly by design and doesn't really hurt them because of how rarely they turn the ball over on offense.

They had a tidy opponent shot selection -- few 3s and shots at the rim, lots of midrange looks -- all season, and even more so after acquiring Washington and Gafford. That has accelerated in the playoffs; only 28.6% of the Thunder's shot attempts against Dallas have come in the restricted area -- a mark that would have ranked 29th among offenses in the regular season, per Cleaning The Glass.

The Thunder and LA Clippers -- the Mavs' first-round opponents -- are both high-volume midrange teams; their shot selection has skewed even further that way against Dallas.

And beware those who arrive at the rim. The Mavs have allowed only 55% shooting at the basket in the postseason, a mark that would have ranked as the league's stingiest by in the first 82. That was the biggest change in their defense after the trade deadline: Dallas became an elite rim-defense team. That has sustained.

We have enough evidence now to say this is a very good defensive team. The Thunder in the half court have scored only 95.5 points per 100 possessions against Dallas -- 10 points below their regular-season mark. Oklahoma City was No. 2 in the regular season, a scoring machine built around knifing drives and elite spot-up shooting. Its half-court efficiency against Dallas would have ranked 25th. This is a total cratering.