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The Mavericks defensive game plan, execution have been perfect against the Jazz

Dallas’ defense is a big reason the series is 1-1

NBA: Playoffs-Utah Jazz at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

After every game, you can always hunt and find areas where a team can do better, offense or defense. Basketball teams aren’t perfect and with enough research, data, know-how, you can usually find where a team can make an adjustment or change things up.

Which is why it feels extremely weird to make this statement — the Mavericks defense has pitched two perfect games against the Jazz in their first round playoff matchup. The defense is a big reason why the series is tied at 1-1 after Dallas roared back in the second half to win Game 2, 110-104.

I have no notes for the Mavericks defense after two games. I am Kris Jenner holding a camcorder to the Mavericks defense while saying “you’re doing amazing, sweetie.”

The Jazz’s offense ranked first in the NBA during the regular season, according to data from Cleaning the Glass, scoring 117.6 points per 100 possessions. In two games against the Mavericks, that number is 114.7 points per 100 possessions —not a seemingly glaring drop, but if this were the regular season that would drop the Jazz from first to eighth. The Mavericks defense scuffled to end the season, so it’s been remarkable to see them regain the form they held from the earlier parts of 2022 so quickly against a potent Jazz attack.

By far the biggest reason for the Mavericks success? Dallas running the Utah shooters off the three point line.

Utah Jazz Shot Distribution

Regular Season vs. Playoffs Team Three Point Rate Team Short Midrange Rate (Shots outside of 4 feet, but inside of ~14 feet)
Regular Season vs. Playoffs Team Three Point Rate Team Short Midrange Rate (Shots outside of 4 feet, but inside of ~14 feet)
2021-2022 Regular Season 43.3% 22.2%
2022 Playoffs 29% 35.8%

The Mavericks have almost cut the Jazz’s three point rate in half, from a league leading 43.3 percent in the regular season to only 29 percent through the first two playoff games. Relatedly, the Jazz rate of shots inside the paint but outside of the restricted area have increased — those shots making up 34 percent of the Jazz’s total shots so far in the playoffs, compared to 20.5 percent in the regular season.

For a Jazz team that relies so much on the three pointer to make their offense work, Dallas will gladly let dangerous shooters like Bojan Bogdanovic, Donovan Mitchell, and Jordan Clarkson take as many 10 footers as possible, so long as the Mavericks defense isn’t compromised by three point shooting. Dallas is sticking to shooters, pressuring the Jazz’s playmakers, and not overreacting to any easy scores closer to the rim. An overreaction with help defense could cause a cascade effect where the Jazz pour on the threes. Dallas is making a bet that if the Jazz can’t get loose from three, it will always have a chance even without superstar Luka Doncic. So far that bet is paying off.

Bogdanovic has killed the Mavericks this series, averaging 25.5 points per game in the two games on 57.1 percent shooting — yet he’s averaging almost two less attempts from three per game compared to the regular season. Dallas is playing Bogdanovic straight up and while he’s beating that single coverage, the alternative of giving up a wide open corner three is worse. Dallas wasn’t able to get over the hump in Game 1 because the offense trailed for the entire fourth. In Game 2, however, Dallas exploded to take a late lead in the final minutes and Bogdanovic’s slow, plodding short twos were not enough to cut deep enough into the lead. Watch as Bullock aggressively plays Bogdanovic in single coverage, but the Mavericks help defenders stay close to the shooters. A fading, contested 14 footer is not the worse shot in the world to give up when you’re leading by four with less than four minutes left.

Mitchell is also down almost two three point attempts per game compared to the regular season, thanks to the Mavericks chasing him off his pet favorite pull up threes out of the pick and roll and forcing him to make contested shots inside the arc.

Jazz starting guard and steady veteran Mike Conley has probably been the most affected by this defensive game plan, he’s gone from five three point attempts per game in the regular season to a mere 2.5 attempts in the playoffs.

Conley is used to hoisting off giant Gobert screens or on the receiving end of Mitchell’s penetration. But with the Mavericks refusing to overhelp on dribble drives and playing pick and roll handlers off the three point line, Conley’s effectiveness has been zapped as he tries to score in the midrange. Conley shot only 34 percent on just 41 midrange attempts in 72 games this season. He has four midrange attempts through two games in this series and just five total three point attempts.

The Mavericks will live with these shots all day, especially since Gobert isn’t killing them in the paint as much as he has in the past. A combination of Utah seemingly refusing to pass to Gobert when he’s open and Gobert’s own ineffectiveness with the ball in Game 2 has plagued a potential Jazz counter to the Mavericks scheme. Gobert getting free near the rim could be trouble and force the Mavericks weakside defenders to crash down even harder, which in turn could open up the three point shots for the Jazz.

So far though, so good. The Mavericks aren’t shutting down the Jazz’s top-ranked offense, but they are making them look mortal. That’s about the best you can expect from a short-handed team desperate to hold the tide while Doncic recovers from his calf strain.

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.