Both feature a multidimensional wing who can knock down threes and play exceptional team defense in Mikal Bridges and Dorian Finney-Smith. Both feature a rugged veteran who can knock down open threes and provide solid defense in Jae Crowder and Reggie Bullock. Both feature an explosive rim running threat that does not block shots despite being a center in Deandre Ayton and Dwight Powell (Ok comparing them is a stretch). Finally, both feature an undersized point guard who thrive through savvy, midrange ability and skill in Chris Paul and Jalen Brunson.
Paul’s pedigree is unquestionable. He is the “point god,” a first ballot Hall-of-Famer who is unanimously considered a top 10 point guard of all time. Brunson’s pedigree is a little different. Despite his college success, he was a second round pick. He has never made an all star team, and he has not yet made significant NBA money. That last fact will change this offseason, and the last four games are showing why.
Brunson has been incredibly efficient and done so while playing next to a player in Doncic, who while incandescent, is not always easy to play with. Brunson came into this series with one final question remaining. Could he deal with the length that the best teams in the league will throw at him in the playoffs?
Through the first two games, it looked like his utterly dominant series against the Utah Jazz was a mirage due to the Jazz having none of the wing length which has bothered Brunson at times. Brunson averaged 11 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game during those two games. He shot 32.1 percent from the floor and was 1-of-4 from three. The Mavericks were outscored by 29 points during his 58 minutes.
Paul on the other hand was absolutely dominant in those first two games. He averaged 23.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. He shot 62.1 percent from the field, made 3-of-7 threes and made all eight of his free throws. The Suns outscored the Mavericks by 33 during his 55 minutes.
Fortunately for Brunson and the Mavericks, this was not a two game series. The script flipped for the following four games. The “point god” has fallen to Earth. He has averaged just 9.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 4.5 turnovers per game. He has still shot well, but he has only attempted 28 shots total in four games. The Mavericks have outscored the Suns by 18 in his time on the court over those four games.
Brunson has come to life during this same time. He has averaged 21.3 point, 4.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He has upped his shooting percentage to 46.4 percent despite continuing to struggle with his three point shot which has fallen to 16.7 percent. Most importantly, he has remained aggressive getting up 17.3 shots per game. He has taken 41 more shots than Paul over this time frame. That aggression is important. Take the play below, Crowder is back and Bridges is close enough to help. Brunson could easily pull the ball back out and reset the offense. Instead he chooses to push the issue and creates a layup.
The term volume shooter is thrown around as a negative term, but the Mavericks need shot creation from players other than Luka. The Mavericks have outscored the Suns by 35 with Brunson on the court over these four games. As good as Booker is, Luka is the best guard in this series. The backcourts appeared to be relatively even because Paul’s advantage over Brunson made up for that difference.
With Brunson outplaying Paul, the Mavericks have a clear advantage in the backcourt over a backcourt that was the best in basketball this season. Brunson is going to get paid a ton of money this offseason. He has earned it throughout his career. He is continuing to do so in this series by outplaying an all time great. Because of that, the Mavericks have a legitimate chance to make it to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in the Luka Doncic era.
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