In Game 1, Jalen Brunson wasn’t his best. His counting stats were nice: 24 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. But it wasn’t the type of basketball we’re used to seeing from him. He was inefficient, shooting 9-of-24 from the field and 1-of-3 from deep. It looked like he was forcing the issue, taking tons of tough shots.
It was understandable. Without Luka Doncic on the court, someone had to create offense for the Dallas Mavericks. After the game, I asked Brunson what he felt good about on offense and what he can focus on bringing into Game 2.
“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.”
Fast forward two days. Dallas just leveled the series with Utah, and ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the fifth and most recent Dallas Maverick to score 40 points in a playoff game: Jalen Brunson.
Not only did he score 40 (well, 41, actually), but he did so in an incredibly savvy and efficient way. It was an absolute masterclass from the 6’1 guard.
Brunson’s full stat line: 41 points on 15-of-25 shooting from the field and 6-of-10 shooting from deep to go along with eight rebounds, five assists, two steals, and zero turnovers. Allow me to say it again: It was an absolute masterclass from Brunson.
He got it going early, looking for his shot right from the tip. Only this time, he was incorporating the three-ball more.
It’s no secret that in today’s NBA, if you can shoot the three at a high percentage, it’s an efficient way to score points. Brunson shoots threes at a high percentage — he just doesn’t shoot that many. During the regular season, he averaged just over three attempts from three per game. During Game 2, he made three deep balls in the first quarter alone.
This made the rest of the game come easy. Taking and making threes early in the game opens up driving lanes, and when those lanes opened up for Brunson, he took full advantage, scoring from wherever he wanted.
So what did Brunson change between Game 1 and Game 2? I asked him after his career night, and his answer surprised me.
“Most importantly, I think in Game 1 I missed a lot of shots that I normally make, so I wasn’t trying to go away from that necessarily,” Brunson told me. “I think the biggest takeover from Game 1 was just kind of staying with it, staying patient, and just playing my game. I didn’t have to change too much besides just slowing down and just concentrating a little more and just continuing to play hard for as long as I was out there.”
I expected him to talk more about the three-point attempts than he did. Instead, he focused more on staying the course, using what’s gotten him to this point in his career, and trusting his high basketball IQ to figure out the rest.
Brunson didn’t say, “I came out hunting threes so it would open up driving lanes for me.” Instead, he just felt the game. The three balls were there, so he took them. Then, driving lanes opened up and he took those. It was incredibly simple, yet devastatingly effective.
Check out his shot chart from Game 2:
All but one of his 15 made field goals were either in the paint or behind the three-point line. That’s the image of efficiency.
Brunson isn’t going to get 41 points in every playoff game. He doesn’t need to. He’s the ultimate shapeshifter. He’s malleable. He plays whatever role you need him to play. Need him to play second-fiddle next to a generational superstar? Perfect. Need him to carry you to a playoff win? Sure thing.
In Game 2, Brunson showed off his best basketball skill. It’s not deadeye shooting. It’s not Kyrie-like ball handling. It’s a savvy understanding of the game, an understanding that’s going to get him paid this summer — hopefully by the Dallas Mavericks.
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.