It is hard to recall the last time a player had the kind of rhythm Jalen Brunson had from the tip of the Dallas Mavericks 110-104 win against the Utah Jazz, evening the series 1-1 in thrilling fashion. He exploded for 15 of the team’s first 18 points — hitting three threes in less than a minute of play — on his way to a career-high 41 points. While it kept them afloat for dead stretches of the game, it was his rhythm that mattered most close to clutch time.
With 6:12 left in the game a Dorian Finney-Smith top of the key three over Rudy Gobert put the Mavericks in front. They found themselves in a familiar position coughing up a small lead, giving up a Royce O’Neale three that tied the game with 5:22 left. Soon after Donovan Mitchell’s floater put the Jazz back on top 98-96 with 4:44 left.
Donovan Mitchell did not score again, and the Mavericks finished the game on a 14-6 run.
The Jazz offense was running through Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic for those final four minutes and change. Even with the Mavericks raining down a barrage of baskets just before clutch time, Utah had momentum. Their initial plan was to isolate Spencer Dinwiddie as a defender. This stop may have been the most important of the game (and led to maybe his most important offensive play).
Even with meeting him at the level of the screen Dinwiddie does a decent job recognizing that Mitchell is headed downhill. He gives him the space to pull-up, but maybe Mitchell doesn’t like that option with Bullock showing. After Maxi Kleber helps off Gobert in the corner Mitchell’s only action is to change course and Dinwiddie does a great job sticking with Mitchell and making his floater difficult.
The Jazz tried a few different points of attack, and Bogdanovic hit two tough shots over Bullock in traffic. The kind of shots you shrug and live with — and as Josh Bowe points out, they left Utah with no kickout options late for another dagger three like Game 1. The Jazz’s last made three was O’Neale’s with 5:22 left.
Sometime when a player starts a game so hot, it leaves the rest of the team searching for a way to catch their own rhythm — and there was a stretch in the middle of the game where it appeared the Mavericks would fall victim. But Brunson’s aggressiveness persisted, and in the end paid dividends for others.
Jazz sixth man Jordan Clarkson feasts on the Mavericks. It often doesn’t seem to matter whether he’s facing bench players or starters, he gets to his spots with relative ease. He did so Monday night, scoring 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting. But it’s also known he can get exposed defensively. Brunson showed zero fear taking Clarkson off the dribble here and freezes Gobert’s help attempt. The Jazz called a timeout here and take Clarkson out for the final 5:39 of the game, opting for a combination of Danuel House Jr. and Mike Conley. Brunson’s aggressiveness again pays off when House overplays him soon after, forcing Gobert to help and leave Maxi Kleber free.
The defensive stop by Dinwiddie above was followed by the play that finally gave the Mavericks some breathing room. What else is there to say about Kleber’s triumphant night that hasn’t already been said? His shot-making, combined with Brunson’s aggressiveness is what leads to plays like this, with under four minutes to go in a tight game.
Dinwiddie hasn’t had a standout offensive performance in this series. He’s found ways to get into the lane but has been indecisive. Here, he gets to the paint thanks to Mitchell’s lazy defense and makes a fantastic read. But none of that happens if Gobert isn’t forced to decide between defending the rim and keeping and tagging Kleber in the corner.
There are aspects of Monday’s win that will be difficult to repeat. Can Brunson score at will at a historic rate? Will Kleber become Splash Brothers South? Probably not. But the framework of those successes are there and are repeatable. A formula for staying aggressive in the lane off the pick-and-roll and stretching the Jazz defense with impactful corner shooters. This series will ask every ounce of its players, and perhaps the same of its fans. Buckle up.
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