Jalen Brunson Led The Doncic-less Mavs To Another Win In Game 3 In Utah

Despite being upgraded to questionable prior to shootaround, Luka Doncic didn’t play in Thursday’s Game 3 between the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz as he continues to deal with a calf strain. The Doncic-less Mavericks won anyway, picking up a 124-118 win to take a 2-1 series lead before his possible return for Game 4.

The Mavericks held a 27-20 lead after one, buoyed by knockdown three-point shooting from several players. Notably, Maxi Kleber followed up his 7-8 three-point mark in Game 2 with a 3-3 start in Game 2. Five of Dallas’ 10 first quarter field goals came from behind the arc.

The three-point barrage for the Mavericks continued in the second quarter, with Davis Bertans kicking things off with a four-point play. By halftime, the Mavericks lead 68-51 after dropping 41 points in the second quarter. Thirteen of their 21 first-half made shots were three-pointers.

Jazz guard Mike Conley was also called for Flagrant 1 foul in the second quarter with 10:14 to go, for closing out into Trey Burke’s landing space on a three-point attempt. Burke made all three free throws. That, per ESPN, was the first time Conley had been called for a flagrant foul in his 15-year NBA career. On the ensuing Dallas possession, Green hit another three to put the Mavericks up 15.

The lone low moment for the Mavericks in the first half was guard Jalen Brunson exiting the game and immediately going back to the locker room with an apparent lower back injury after being shoved by Jazz forward Royce O’Neale.

Brunson was happily able to start the second half and played the rest of the way without appearing any worse for wear. On his first shot, he drove past O’Neale, hit a leaning floater and was fouled. He finished with 31 points and 5 assists.

The Jazz had their best quarter in the third, with Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic combining for 31 of the team’s 40 points in the quarter to get within six going heading into the fourth. Notably, the Jazz went to Eric Paschall in the second half to throw a small-ball five look for a few minutes in the second half when Gobert went to the bench with four fouls in the third quarter and had arguably their best stretch of the game without him.

Utah got as close as four points after Mike Conley hit a three-pointer with 6:41 to go in the fourth quarter, as Dallas missed its first four three-point attempts in the quarter to leave the door slightly open for a comeback. But Dallas responded, going on a 13-4 run over a roughly four minute stretch to push its lead back to double digits on the backs of Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie, the latter of whom hit the dagger on a deep three in the closing minutes.

For the game, Dallas was 18-41 from three with Spencer Dinwiddie making two, Kleber making four, and Davis Bertans also making four. Utah finished 10-28 from three with only Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic making more than one.

With the Mavericks up 2-1 in the series, it feels like they have the advantage going forward and should be viewed as the favorites to advance. When they’ve leaned into playing five-out and not playing Dwight Powell aside from a few minutes at the start of each half, the Mavs are warping the Jazz’s defense. Every set — even a simple drive-and—kick — was aimed to pull Gobert away from the paint and taking Utah away from its defense identity.

The Mavs also repeatedly went at Mitchell, pressing that weak spot at the point of attack over and over again. Mitchell was good on offense for most of the game, scoring 32 points and largely fueling Utah’s offensive comeback. But for as good as he was on offense, he was just as bad — if not worse — on defense.

This is all without Doncic. If he returns from his calf strain for Game 4 or Game 5, all it will do is allow the Mavs to lean into this offensive strategy even further with Doncic’s passing and shot making ability. It’s on the Jazz now to find answers and find a way back into the series.