If Rick Carlisle's pregame description of the Golden State Warriors held any water then the Warriors should have showed up in Dallas in a fleet of semis and with a contingent of roadies Friday night.
"Right now in the NBA this is bigger than the Rolling Stones on tour," The Dallas Mavericks coach said before their 130-112 loss to the Western Conference-leading Warriors. "Wherever they go there's a mass of people and a huge following and they've earned that kind of attention whether they like it or not."
This Warriors team is something special and unique and generational. They've reenergized the NBA fan base and they've reframed how an NBA team can succeed. They bury you with mismatches, ball movement and a cadre of 3-point shooters that take shots that, on any other team, would earn a player a one-way ticket to the bench.
But the Mavericks tried to unplug the Warriors' collective amplifier, and for about 40 minutes it looked like the Mavericks might succeed. Every time the Warriors tried to pull away, the Mavericks pulled them back. They matched the Warriors' energy and intensity. The Mavericks put six players in double figures, led by Dirk Nowitzki's 24. David Lee had a double-double — 16 points and 16 rebounds.
But six players in double-figures matters little when Stephen Curry scores 31 points and Klay Thompson scores 39 points — and three other Warriors hit double figures to boot.
You can play the moral victory card all you want, but the Mavs are under .500 for the first time since November and have, despite their best efforts, slipped to eighth place in the Western Conference.
"We can play with anybody," Carlisle said. "We're in a parity league. The bottom line is each night it's tipping by fractions. When you play a team as good as Golden State you have to tip it by more than fractions."
If the Warriors are the Rolling Stones in their prime, the Mavs feel like the Rolling Stones on their Steel Wheels Tour. A veteran group with miles on the road, they're banged up now as Chandler Parsons is nursing a hamstring injury and Wesley Matthews has a lower body injury that looked a lot worse that it appears to be.
The Mavs recognize this could be a team they face in the first round of the playoffs, and if you thought Friday night's game was a carnival, imagine a first-round playoff series with the Splash Brothers in town for multiple games.
Warriors fans descended upon the American Airlines Center in droves. Heck, so did Mavs fans. The gates normally open at 6 p.m. They opened at 5:25 p.m. so people could check out Curry's now-legendary pregame routine. When you have to say "excuse me'' to fans standing in line to get into the arena just to get into the press entrance to the arena, you know something special is happening.
Fans lined up along the lower bowl to catch a glimpse, at times tripping over one another for the opportunity to get a cell phone shot of Curry doing something incredible. Once you watch him in pregame, you understand why Curry's shot is so blink-and-you'll-miss-it fast.
The Mavs get it. It's a delicate dance between appreciation and intimidation and the Mavs walked it wisely Friday night. Happy to praise, but never to say that the Warriors were too much for them.
"We hung right in there for the majority of the game," Mavs forward Chandler Parsons said. "Those two guys (Curry and Thompson) are unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it. It's crazy how well they shoot the ball. It's really special what they're doing."
Curry, by the way, hit the shot of the night, an absurd bank shot from the corner over the hands of Nowitzki. The description doesn't do it justice.
"Yeah, they're incredible," Nowitzki said.
This isn't the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s. That was a precision offensive outfit based on transition, precision playmaking and defense, the last of which that group never gets enough credit for.
This isn't the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s either. Before Michael Jordan teams weren't built around the talents of one player. But those Bulls were. And Warriors coach Steve Kerr has some experience with NBA teams as rock shows.
"Well, I was with The Beatles in '96, so I guess (coaching this team) is fitting," Kerr said about his time with Jordan's Bulls.
These Warriors draw your attention. Recently, Prince showed up at a home game. Friday night, defending Masters champion and Dallas native Jordan Spieth was chatting with Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton long after the game.
The Warriors are also built to exploit your divided attention. Focus on Curry and Thompson all you want. Then Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes will just destroy you. Rare is the night when all four of them are off. Carlisle says that, at times, the shotmaking and playmaking is "breathtaking."
But rare is the night when the Warriors call plays.
"I think they called four plays tonight," said Lee, who would know better than anyone, since he played with the Warriors during their title run last year. "They're not like San Antonio that executes 75 or 80 plays a game. I think they called four plays and the rest was skip passes and fadeaway threes that went in."
And, yet, they're beatable, as Carlisle is quick to point out. The Warriors have lost six times and the Mavs are one of the lucky few to beat them (with a caveat — five players were out for that December game, including Curry). The Warriors are an elegant study in offense to the basketball fan, but the Warriors are a puzzle for coaches like Carlisle. The Mavs found pieces of the formula Friday — good shooting, limit the second-chance points, win the battle in the paint, keep up in the fast break. The Mavs did all of those things Friday night.
But shooting — the thing the Warriors do the best — did Dallas in. The Warriors shot 50 percent from the floor, with the Mavs shooting 44 percent. Golden State also made 22 3-pointers to Dallas' 9. That's a 66-27 point differential.
If Friday night served as a prelude to a playoff matchup, it could be a whale of a series, especially if it goes six or seven games. But there's a problem with that, as Nowitzki points out.
"We gotta worry about getting in at this point," Nowitzki said. "Utah has a fairly easy schedule, I think. Our schedule is a monster. Whatever seeding we get we'll take and we'll go from there."
The show left town Friday night, leaving the Mavs to clean up what the Warriors left behind — a Dallas team under .500 and fighting for its playoff life.