2021-2022 NBA Playoffs

Dallas isn’t just surviving without Doncic, they’re thriving

Every Mavs fan around the world collectively churned in sickness as Luka Doncic left the floor with a left calf strain in the very last game of the season against the Spurs. That nauseous feeling worsened as Dallas lost game one at home to the Utah Jazz in the first round. Clearly struggling to create offense with just Spencer Dinwiddie and Jalen Brunson as primary ball handlers, the Jazz got just enough out of Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovich to take game one in Dallas. What transpired after game one has been incredibly impressive from the Mavericks. 

Dallas Turns Things Around

Going into game two, it looked like it was going to take an absolutely galactic shooting effort to generate enough offense just to avoid losing both games at home. Dallas did just that, bombing 22 threes on Utah’s head to keep themselves alive. Maxi recorded 8 of those threes, joining Jason Terry (9-10, 5/8/11 vs. Lakers) as the only Mavericks to hit 8+ threes in a postseason game.

Jalen Brunson also stepped up when the Mavs needed it most, scoring a career-high 41 points. Brunson also had 0 turnovers in that game, to become only the fourth player to record 40+ points and 0 turnovers in a postseason game since he entered the league. Kevin Durant, Jamal Murray (twice) and Chris Paul are the other three players. But what happened in game three was absolute proof of who the better team in this series is.

It was reasonable to expect a tidal wave of emotion and energy from the Jazz in the early moments of the game. Once the first few minutes had passed, and Dallas wasn’t down 14, things were already looking up for the Mavs. They then proceeded to dominate the first half, creating one wide open shot after another and more often than not, draining them. Two Davis Bertans splashdowns put Dallas up 17 at the break. The Jazz made a resilient comeback in the second half led by 28 points from Donovan Mitchell, but Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie were too much for Utah to control down the stretch of the game.

The Mavericks had 7 players score 12-or-more points in game two. It was only the second time in franchise history that the Mavericks had 7+ players score 12+ points in a playoff game. The first time this occured was nearly 34 years ago when the Mavs played against the Rockets on 28 April 1988.

Jalen Brunson Taking Center Stage

The Jazz, at least through three games, clearly have no answer for Jalen Brunson, who has a remarkable 72 points in his last two outings. Brunson’s playoff career, before this series, had been less than stellar. He missed Dallas’s appearance in the bubble with a labrum injury, and was essentially played off the floor a year ago in the team’s rematch with the Clippers. Even with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert on the other side, Brunson has far and away been the best player on the floor through three games.

Without a doubt, Brunson has made himself a hefty contract this coming offseason. The pending unrestricted free agent was instrumental in keeping Dallas afloat as Utah made a furious second half run Thursday night. The ship was taking on water, and Brunson continuously got to his gorgeous midrange game, often over Gobert. If Brunson continues to play at this level when Doncic returns, the rest of the Western Conference better be awfully careful.

“I love these guys, they been warriors. My success comes from them.” Brunson praising his teammates after leading the team to back-to-back wins.” Jalen Brunson on his success in games two and three.

Maxi Kleber Finding Rhythm

Kleber’s shooting stroke has been beautiful to watch through this series. After making just nine three-pointers the entire month of March, he swished eight in game two after nailing a clutch shot near the end of game one. He hit three more in the first half of game three, and is clearly as confident shooting the ball as he’s ever been in his career. His rare athleticism for someone his size allows him to be more-than-adequate defender on the perimeter, something Dallas will need to cool off the scorching hot Bogdanovich in this series, and whoever Dallas matches up with through the rest of the playoffs.

“My mindset is I am going to be prepared to shoot the open shots.. when you are open, you just let it fly.” Maxi Kleber on his mentality after seeing shots go in against Utah.

Josh Green’s Development

One other bright spot from game three was Josh Green’s incredible contributions in the first half. The second-year wing drilled three long balls and came up with two impressive steals as Dallas took charge in the second quarter. The development of Green from last year has been incredible to watch, and it’s just one of the countless reasons why Jason Kidd should undoubtedly be named the Coach of the Year. 

“At the end of the day, to make them you have to take them. Going in and the confidence, it was good. Just stepping into it and making sure I am hitting them.” Josh Green stated post-game on finding the balance of taking shots and playing within the system.

Look Ahead

Despite Rudy Gobert’s presence in the paint, Dallas continues to torch Utah offensively. In particular, none of Utah’s perimeter guards or wings have provided any resistance. So far in this series, according to StatMuse, anyone being guarded by Donovan Mitchell is shooting 11% better than their normal scoring average for the season. That’s not something that will completely turn around for Utah before this series ends, and certainly not when a certain someone returns to the lineup. 

Right now, the Mavericks are sharing the ball, defending their tails off, and showering the Jazz with three pointers for a 2-1 series lead. Whether or not Brunson’s rhythm will get slightly disrupted by Luka’s return is a legitimate question, but Doncic himself and a potential restarting of Spencer Dinwiddie can make up for that.

Through three games, it’s pretty clear who the better team is, and it isn’t Utah.

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