He poured in 25 points–all three-pointers–in 31 minutes of action off the bench. Kleber made Utah’s defense pay for leaving him open and helped Dallas win the game, 110-104, and even the series at one game apiece as the series shifts to Salt Lake City.
“Every time I was open, I just shot the ball,” Kleber said. “We analyzed how they play defense and where the looks were coming from. You have to be ready to shoot and just let it fly. I didn’t really think much about it.”
Jazz defenders, especially center Rudy Gobert, hedged off Kleber along the perimeter. Utah’s defense was more worried about stopping dribble penetration in the paint than guarding Kleber.
This allowed Kleber to take open shot after open shot. He connected on eight of his 11 three-point attempts. His 25 points were the second-most points he’s scored in any game during his career. He also joins Jason Terry as the only players in Dallas history to make eight or more three-pointers in a playoff game.
“Big-time!” Jalen Brunson said. “When he’s able to stretch the floor like that, the defense has decisions to make. Yes, he was 8-for-11, but he’s also a guy who is willing to make the extra pass. I’m happy for him the way he played tonight–just incredible.”
Kleber’s shoot was contagious. The Mavericks sank 22 of their 47 three-point attempts, setting a new franchise postseason record. Their previous high was 20, which the team has accomplished twice.
While Kleber’s eight makes led the way, Brunson poured in six, and both Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith made three of their shots from deep.
Kleber’s hot hand allowed the spacing to open in the halfcourt. Guards drove and kicked the ball out to open players, or the ball would move to find the open man. Dallas made a total of 17 uncontested threes in the win, the most by any team in the last 10 seasons. Utah’s defense could do little more than scramble and watch.
“It doesn’t matter if it is me or someone else, but if you make shots and you are a hot player then people tend to move more to you and so you open up the paint more for other guys,” Kleber said. “But I knew whenever I caught the ball and there was space, I was going to let it fly again because it felt like I had a hot hand and I just continued shooting.”
“I think the beautiful part about Maxi in this series is he’s a stretch 5,” Spencer Dinwiddie said. “They play two traditional drop bigs so it kind of disturbs their defense because obviously Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside are phenomenal shot blockers at the rim. They want to come contest and be a big help side presence, but Maxi gives them space and it gives him enough room to knock down shots as well.”
Seeing Kleber knock down so many shots is a welcome change of pace. He could not buy a shot to close the season. From March 1 through April 1, Kleber appeared in 15 games and shot 31.7 percent overall and an abysmal 19.6 percent from behind the arc.
“He hadn’t made any at the end of the season but he’s just a pro,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “He’s playing defensively, he never complains. The beauty of it is his teammates trust him. He has to shoot them because he can shoot–and today he made them. And we’re going to need him, no matter if he makes or misses. He just creates space, helps everyone on the floor. He was huge for us tonight for us to get up 47 threes.”
With the series knotted up at one game and Kleber’s shot rising from the tomb, the Mavericks head to Utah with an invigorated confidence. Still, Kleber and his teammates know that Game 2 is already behind them and that they must look to be better collectively heading into Game 3 if they want to get another win.
“Obviously, it is a big boost, but even in the games before when I didn’t shoot well, I think overall I still did many things and we won as a team. That is the most important part,” Kleber said.
“And in the playoffs, numbers don’t really matter; all we care about is winning. It doesn’t matter if I get a hot day and make my shots or somebody else does. All we care about is getting the win. Obviously, it feels really good to make those shots because the end of the season wasn’t my prettiest. But this was one game and now you have to move on to the next one.”
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.