The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Utah Jazz in game three in the first round of the western conference playoffs 126-118 behind 31 points from Jalen Brunson.
This win gave Dallas a 2-1 advantage heading into game four, which marks the expected return of superstar Luka Doncic. It is also being used to strongly condemn the Jazz, who have not been able to produce at the same level in the postseason as they frequently have in the regular season.
Dallas fans would have been dreading playing this series without Doncic, but with a 2-1 lead, they are totally in the driver’s seat.
Jalen Brunson takes over again
Former second-round pick and secondary ball-handler Jalen Brunson has been electric through three playoff games, averaging 32.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 50.7% field goal shooting. The two-time national champion at Villanova is in a contract year and vindicating himself quite nicely ahead of what figures to be the most rewarding summer of his life.
The Mavericks won largely because they were on fire from beyond the arc once again, led by Maxi Kleber (4-5 3PT) and Davis Bertans (4-7 3PT). On top of that, the bench contributed 49 points compared to Utah’s 24; any coach around the league will say that this is a recipe for success.
The Jazz has been unable to stay in front of Dallas’ guards through three games, whether that be Brunson or teammate Spencer Dinwiddie, who stole the headlines with a posterizing dunk over three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.
Even Josh Green, a 21-year-old who averaged just over 15 minutes per game, was blowing by Utah’s defenders like they were not even there.
The Mavericks’ chance at the title
Don’t look now, but the Dallas Mavericks have a legitimate path to the NBA Finals.
Assuming Doncic is mostly himself when he comes back, they should be able to ride their 2-1 lead to a series victory over Utah. After all, the Slovenian star does not rely on incredible athleticism or explosiveness, so getting past a strained calf should not be a major issue.
From there, they would either face the Phoenix Suns, who could be without Devin Booker for up to three weeks, or the eighth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans, which would lead to a conference finals against, presumably, either the Memphis Grizzlies or Golden State Warriors.
The focus for the Mavericks to continue their championship campaign will be to continue to knock down perimeter shots and run with the ball. Part of the reason that the Mavs have been so successful without their main man is that Brunson has been great at pushing the ball up the court and keeping the Jazz on its heels.
It remains to be seen how head coach Jason Kidd will balance the load between Brunson and Doncic once he returns, both out of care for Doncic’s calf and respect for Brunson’s hot hand. Whether Kidd knew he had this much talent in his locker room or not, it has become evident that Dallas is not the Luka-or-bust team most of the basketball world thought them to be.
The Jazz blew a 3-1 lead in the 2021 playoffs, and unless they are willing to flip the script on its head, they desperately need a win in game four before going back to Dallas.
Game four will tip-off in Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET. Utah is favored for the fourth-straight time, although that has not helped them thus far.