Luka Doncic was only a spectator when the fourth-seeded Dallas Mavericks dropped Game One 99-93 to the fifth-seeded Utah Jazz.
Doncic was still nursing a strained left calf from 6 days prior during the regular-season finale win over the Spurs. His status for Monday’s Game Two in the best-of-seven series remains in question as head coach Jason Kidd has only said that he is taking it day by day.
“I’ve said this all week: He’s been in a good place. His spirit has been great — smiling, laughing, and doing the stuff that he’s supposed to to get prepared and hopefully play in this series. But we won’t know [until we] see how he feels.” said Kidd of Doncic.
The Mavericks still gave an inspiring performance and showed potential to steal the win without their superstar guard. Led by Jalen Brunson’s 24 points and Spencer Dinwiddie’s 22 points, Dallas held Utah, who was second in the NBA with 14.5 completed three-pointers a game, to just two three-pointers before halftime. They would finish the game 7-of-22 from the three-point range.
The Jazz missed their first nine three-point attempts until Bojan Bogdanovic hit the team’s first with 3:10 remaining in the second quarter and then another with 2.2 seconds left. The threes were part of a 13-2 run to end the quarter, giving Utah a 45-43 halftime lead. Bogdanovich finished with 26 points.
Dallas held the lead for most of the first half, but they would not lead again after halftime.
Utah’s All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell struggled mightily before the break, making only 1-of-9 shot attempts for two points. However, he was a completely different player after halftime as he erupted for 19 points in the third quarter alone and finished with 32 points total.
Utah built a lead as large as 12 points in the third quarter, but Dallas kept fighting. The Mavericks trimmed the 12-point deficit to eight points (73-65) by the start of the fourth. Then, they got within two points (88-86) after Reggie Bullock made a three-pointer with 3:33 remaining. They were only one point down (92-91) after Maxi Kleber connected on another three with 2:12 remaining.
Mitchell missed a shot on the ensuing possession, and the Mavericks had a chance to take the lead, but Kleber missed badly on a three-pointer. Former Baylor Bear Royce O’Neal came up huge for the Jazz and provided the dagger.
O’Neal missed a layup but grabbed his own rebound to give the Jazz another possession. He capped that extra possession with a corner three-pointer with 57.3 seconds remaining to extend Utah’s lead to 95-91. That was the only made shot of the game for O’Neal.
The Jazz had 20 second-chance points compared to the Mavericks’ seven. Utah also had a massive advantage in rebounding. Their All-Star center Rudy Gobert only had five points but collected 17 rebounds to help his team out-rebound the Mavericks 53-34.
Doncic had been cheering and attempting to motivate his teammates all game, but they could not close out the comeback win.
“Especially when they was up nine or eight in the fourth quarter, [Luka] was telling us we still can win the game,” Dorian Finney-Smith said. “That really helped us, too, because we battled. We battled all the way to the end, and Royce O’Neale hit a big shot. That was a real big shot. He didn’t make a shot all game until that one, so if we guard like we did tonight, we’ll give ourselves a chance next game.”
Finney-Smith finished with 14 points. Brunson, the starting point guard in place of Doncic, also added seven rebounds and five assists.
“We missed a lot of easy looks, a lot of great looks. We just missed them,” Brunson said. “We’re just playing basketball. There’s no telling who’s shooting what and where. Just kind of put ourselves in position to make plays for one another. Coach Kidd gives us that ability and that confidence.”
Dinwiddie added eight assists and made 10-of-16 from the free-throw line.
“Think about it: We lost by six; I missed six free throws. We’re right there. If anything, this should be encouraging for our fanbase, in my opinion,” Dinwiddie said. “Give them credit. They went out there and won the game. … With them having their two best scorers both go for 30 basically and [for us to] still hold them under 100 — overall, I think there’s a lot of room for optimism.”