It’s easy to understand why Mavericks fans are upset after the first game of Mavericks-Jazz. Heck, lots of Mavs fans were upset before the game, and for good reason. It’s frustrating to have watched this team all season long, only to see them without generational superstar Luka Doncic in the first game of the playoffs. It’s no one’s fault, really. These things happen. But they’re frustrating nonetheless.
In the series opener, the Mavericks had a real chance to steal a win. They outplayed the Jazz for the majority of the first half and made a late push in the fourth quarter. But ultimately, it was the simple things that lost them the game. Spencer Dinwiddie missed a ton of free throws. The Mavericks missed open threes. They got into a pattern of overdribbling. They gave up too many offensive rebounds. And they missed some bunnies late in the game.
The good news? All of that is fixable. Dinwiddie is a good free-throw shooter. The Mavericks have capable three-point shooters. They moved the ball well in the first half (and can easily get back to that). And they can also box out better, which will ultimately lead to fewer second-chance points.
I know it’s hard to feel optimistic about the Mavericks’ chances in this series when they blew a game they could’ve won, but I feel more optimistic right now than I did before the game started.
Not only are all of the little things fixable, but the big picture stuff points in the Mavericks’ favor, mostly thanks to their defense. Holding the Jazz under 100 points is no easy feat. They had the best offense in the league during the regular season and were held under 100 points a mere eight times. In other words: Dallas locked them up!
Could the Jazz get hot and melt the nets for a few games? Sure. But the Dallas defense was awesome, and I expect that to continue. They have the manpower to make life difficult on their perimeter scorers, and the Jazz refuse to give the ball to Rudy Gobert. I feel good about that going forward.
Offensively, this game was brutal for the Mavericks. Everything was led by Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie, who had relatively brutal games. The thing is, their brutal games can be corrected pretty easily. They just need to keep the ball moving. In the first half, the ball was swinging around, and the Mavericks were doing a good job of finding the open guy. Could it have been better? Absolutely. But it wasn’t horrible. It was good enough to keep them in the game. The third quarter is when things got bad. Brunson and Dinwiddie got iso-reliant, and were forced into tough shots over and over again.
Brunson and Dinwiddie are both cerebral basketball players. They’re savvy. They understand the game. I find it hard to believe they’ll force the issue in Game 2 the same way they did in Game 1. If you don’t believe me, listen to JB himself.
After the game, I asked Brunson what he felt good about offensively in series opener and what he can focus on attacking going into game two.
“For me personally, I’ve prided myself on being consistent and efficient my entire life,” Brunson told me. “So I think going into game two, [being] smarter, taking better shots, being more efficient, for me personally is definitely going to be a key. I’m just gonna have to go back and watch a little more — be a student of the game and learn from this.”
I’m expecting Brunson to do exactly what he said he has to do: watch some film, learn from the first game and be more efficient in the rematch. He’s the type of guy that can make adjustments.
In general, fans have a tendency to overreact to the outcome of Game 1’s positively or negatively. If your team wins, it’s hard to imagine them ever losing again. If your team loses, it feels impossible to get over the hump.
Remember in 2019, when the Raptors dropped the first game of the playoffs to the Orlando Magic? D.J. Augustin looked like a matchup nightmare. He looked unguardable. What ended up happening? The Raptors won the next four games and ended up winning the title not too long after people had them on upset alert.
The Mavericks aren’t the 2019 Raptors, and the Jazz certainly aren’t the 2019 Magic. But adjustments will be made. Shooting will wax and wane. And the series goes on.
What I’m asking Mavs fans, is not to panic. There are tons of things to feel good about going forward in this series. Plus, that Luka Doncic guy might come back at some point. That would probably change things.
Here’s our latest episode of Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you’re unable to see the embed below, click here to be taken to the podcast directly. Or go to your favorite podcast app and search Mavs Moneyball Podcast.