A Luka-less Mavericks squad made the Jazz work down to the wire for a game one victory in Dallas. Had it been nearly one of 82 regular-season games, it could have been considered a commendable feat. In the playoffs, it’s just an 0-1 series deficit. There are no moral victories in a seven-game series, just wins and losses. Now, with Luka doubtful for game two, the path to the win column remains treacherous for Dallas.
Playing without Luka has always been about minimizing the damage. Splitting the games at home and heading to Utah 1-1 was always the best, most reasonable scenario, but having dropped game one, the margin for error is nil. That said, based on how the teams played on Saturday, this Dallas team at full strength sweeps Utah, so even if Dallas goes down 0-3, I’m not burying my head in the sand. But ideally, Luka can step back into the lineup with a healthy calf and as small a mountain to climb as possible. The Utah Jazz are currently 5 point favorites, which says to me that no one has a great feel for this series after one game.
Utah won game one with Rudy Gobert attempting only one shot (that he missed) and 5 points. Both are a far cry from his 8 attempts and 18 points he’s averaging this season. He was still a huge factor, grabbing 17 boards and holding the Mavs to a 14-point deficit on points scored in the paint. Still, after the game, he was asked about his shot attempts and had this to say.
“I do hope I get more next game but, at the same time, for the most part of the game, I thought we moved the ball. We talk about sacrifice: that’s what it’s about. One night it’s going to be me, one night it might be someone else, but, at the end of the day, we kept moving the ball, and that’s what matters.”
That’s about as gracious an answer as one can expect in the middle of a playoff series, but the message is clear - game one he sacrificed. Game two is someone else’s turn.
Dallas will be playing on the knife’s edge if Utah makes it a point to get Gobert looks in the paint. On paper, he matches up well with Dallas’ bigs, Powell and Kleber - both fantastic, high-energy, athletic front-court players, but not necessarily guys who bang in the paint against 7-footers. More attempts for Gobert threaten to expand the already eye-watering points in the pain differential, but if the cost of possessions in the post for Gobert is fewer touches for, say, Bojan Bogdanovic, (who had a huge 11-20 night for 26 points) Dallas might come out the other side of that trade looking peachy.
Can’t depend on the whistle
It feels strange to be deferential to the officiating in a game where the final two-minute report showed Jalen Brunson getting fouled on a critical layup attempt with under a minute to go in the fourth that could’ve made it a one-possession game. That said, Dallas’ 34 free throw attempts to Utah’s 23 seem to show that The refs gave Dallas the call on plenty of occasions. If anything, on a night where Dallas shot poorly and couldn’t sustain an offensive rhythm, the free throws were the main reason the game was as close as it ended up being.
Dallas did its job on defense, holding the Jazz under 100 and frustrating Donovan Mitchell for most of the night. But shooting under 30% from three just isn’t going to cut it. Utah took the second-most threes in the regular season with just North of 40 per game. Holding them to just 22 in game one while shooting 32 of their own theoretically provides the imbalanced, high-variance situation required to steal a shorthanded win, but that math is no good when the shots don’t fall.
They got good looks, and even the recently snake-bitten Kleber had a solid 2-5 night beyond the arc, but with Dinwiddie and Josh Green going a combined 0-8, and Dorian only attempting five (he’s averaging five 3pa per game this season but with Luka out, he should be soaking up some of those extra possessions), there wasn’t enough offensive firepower.
Gotta go fast
When you have the better team, the goal should be to impose your will on your opponent and make them play the game you want to play. However, if you’re the Dallas Mavericks in a series without Luka Doncic, you need to find areas you can draw blood from a stone. It’s not about crashing up against your opponent’s strengths, it’s about maximizing your own wherever you can find them. In game one, that bright spot was fast-break points.
Even without Luka, Dallas did a fantastic job being secure with the ball, coughing up only 7 turnovers. On the flip side, not only did Dallas’ defensive effort keep Utah sub-100, but they also forced 14 turnovers, 8 of which were steals. They generated 10 fast-break points, which was more than Utah’s eight, but not nearly enough of a disparity considering they had twice the number of takeaways.
In general, without Doncic, Dallas needs to embrace playing fast, getting out and running, and racking up points in transition. Doncic is perhaps the greatest half-court offense creator in the league, so it’s asking a lot to simply be able to flip the switch and play with a completely different style, but it definitely seems like an area where Dallas left some points on the table. Certainly, for guys like Josh Green who went 0-4, all on threes, transition opportunities would be a huge benefit both for his production in general, and just his overall confidence on the floor. Not to steal a Harper-ism, but sometimes, you just need to see the ball go through the net.
How to watch
You can watch the broadcast on NBA TV at 7:30 CST.
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