On Thursday night, the Dallas Mavericks took a 2-1 series lead after a 126-118 win over the Utah Jazz.
Dallas was still without the injured Luka Doncic, but Jalen Brunson delivered again, scoring 31 points and adding five assists with only one turnover.
It was an all-around team effort for Dallas to get their first win at Utah’s Vivint Arena in its last 11 games at the arena. Brunson was one of seven Mavericks to score in double-figures.
“We’re all on the same page,” Brunson said. “We’re all clicking. We’re all talking and communicating.”
Spencer Dinwiddie had 10 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, and Dorian Finney-Smith added 14 points, including a crucial three-pointer with 1:56 left that gave the Mavericks a ten-point lead. Fellow starter Reggie Bullock scored 12 points.
The Bench made a significant difference as well, with Maxi Kleber (17 points), Davis Bertans (15 points), and Josh Green (12 points) combining to score 44 points and make 11-of-17 from behind the three-point line. In all, the Dallas reserves outscored Utah’s reserves 49-24.
“I trust every one of those guys, and we just want to put them in a position to succeed,” said Dallas head coach Jason Kidd.
Still, Kidd knows the job is far from finished as Dallas needs to win two more games to advance to the second round.
“I just told the guys we haven’t done anything,” Kidd said. “They won at our place and now we won here. We need to put this game behind us and figure out what we need to do better.”
It is hard to imagine the Mavericks playing better than they did Thursday night without Doncic, whose return luckily appears imminent.
Doncic has missed all three of the games in the series, but it appears he may return for Game Four on Saturday in Salt Lake City. Dallas only ruled Doncic out for Game Three a few hours before tipoff.
“We said from the start of his injury we were going to be cautious,” Kidd said.
Doncic seemed unfazed by his injury as he went through a pre-game workout on the arena court, easily moving around the court to various shooting spots. His return for Game Four would only boost the Mavericks’ chances of ending the series quickly.
The Mavericks cruised out of the starting gate, leading 27-20 after the first quarter and extending their lead to 15 points a couple of minutes into the second. Dallas coasted the entire first half even after Brunson had to go to the locker room with a bruised back midway through the second quarter.
As Jazz guard Mike Conley made a three-pointer with five minutes left in the second quarter, Brunson waited for a potential rebound near the paint. Before Conley’s shot went through, Utah forward Royce O’Neale appeared to shove Brunson in the back with his elbow. Brunson went to the floor and struggled to stand until he finally limped across the court, holding his lower back.
Brunson intentionally fouled to stop play and check out. As he walked gingerly to the bench, he complained at the officials for their lack of calling a foul. The words he said earned him a technical foul.
Asked after the game what he had to say about the hit, Brunson responded, “I said what I had to say,” referring to the remarks that prompted the foul.
Brunson headed straight to the locker room, but even without their lead point guard in Doncic’s absence, the Mavericks outscored Utah by seven points in 4:38 to take a 68-51 lead into halftime. Then, Brunson returned to start the third quarter.
Brunson watched his teammates build the 17-point halftime lead from the locker room.
“I saw how hard the team was playing when I was laying back there,” Brunson said. “It gave me a little mojo to come back out there and do my thing.”
Dallas still led by 17 points (83-66) with less than six minutes remaining in the third, but the Jazz did not surrender. Utah’s All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell scored 28 of his 32 points after halftime, and the Jazz outscored the Mavericks 40-29 in the third. Utah fought back and trimmed its deficit to one point (103-102), with 6:42 remaining in the fourth.
Dallas responded with a quick 10-2 run orchestrated by Dinwiddie and Brunson. Dinwiddie had the first four points of the run, then Brunson scored six straight to make it 113-104.
Brunson and Dinwiddie scored 18 of the Mavericks’ 29 fourth-quarter points.
“That group in that locker room — they truly believe,” Kidd said. “That third quarter, they came out and they hit us, and it would’ve been easy for us to just give up the lead and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to come back Saturday,’ but those guys fought.”