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The Mavericks-Jazz scuffle sent a message

A simple playoff misunderstanding was just a blip, but what it says about the Mavericks’ unity speaks volumes.

Utah Jazz v Dallas Mavericks - Game Five Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Everyone has two sets of jugular veins. The external jugular veins, much smaller in diameter, are found on the outside of muscle along the neck and are visible to the naked eye. The internal jugular veins collects deoxygenated blood from the brain and transports it back to the heart — though larger, it typically requires ultrasound to locate.

With 5:33 left in the game Monday night, Luka Doncic went for the internal jugular.

The game was all but decided, a thoroughly dominant performance from Doncic and the Mavericks, and Luka decided he needed to add a poster to his collection. The foul was actually not bad, though Jazz center Hassan Whiteside was verging on out of control. What drew the reaction was his throwing Doncic (flailing as he may be) to the ground and standing over him.

It led to an immediate scuffle, with assistant coaches trying to cool both teams off and eventually led to Whiteside’s ejection and Mavericks wing Reggie Bullock receiving his second technical of the night allowing him to hit the showers early.

But it wasn’t Doncic’s dunk attempt or Whiteside’s foul that drew my attention. It was the photos that surfaced Tuesday morning of the exchange that compelled me.

Utah Jazz v Dallas Mavericks - Game Five Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

If all you saw was this photo instead of the full altercation play out you’d think no one from the Jazz side came to Whiteside’s defense, while a MCU’s worth of Mavericks players swarmed to protect Doncic. Remarkable even more because the whole thing appeared to be a misunderstanding. There was even a moment, before Dorian Finney-Smith was the first to jump in, that Whiteside appeared to offer Doncic help off the floor.

“I just saw Luka [Dončić] take a bad fall and he stood over him, so I just ran over there and just tried to protect my teammate,” Finney-Smith remarked post game. Any Mavericks players asked about after their 102-77 win brushed the whole thing off, understanding it as a product of playoff basketball.

But the tone it set was clear: no opponent will be more physical than us, and any threat made to Doncic will be made to the whole team.

Jalen Brunson, who has had his bouts with the Jazz physicality in this series, saw it as, “Our team basically backing up one of our guys. I have no problem with it. I saw what you saw.”

Luka no doubt can be antagonizing. He was not only dominating the Jazz in the second half, he was shimmying his way through basket after basket. His relationship to opponents in his postseason career has been contentious at best, dating back to the 2020 bubble playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers.

The 2020 instance led to a Kristaps Porzingis ejection in a critical Game 1 loss, but it was also representative of the rest of the series. Few Mavericks seemed willing to step in to defend Luka and the antics Marcus Morris Sr. and other Clippers players utilized.

The Mavericks chemistry this season, especially since the calendar turned to 2022, has been talked about a lot in comparison to season’s past. The roster is mostly the same, but the connection and camaraderie is markedly different. It matters, too. If the Mavericks are to advance past this first round, their bond as a roster will make an impact. And Luka notices too:

“They had my back. That’s what great teams do. I would go with these guys to war.”