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Tuesday, September 27, 2022
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Utah Spoils Doncic’s Return, Series Tied 2-2


Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) reacts during Game 4. | Image by Rick Bowmer

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The Utah Jazz spoiled Luka Doncic’s 2022 postseason debut with a 100-99 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday in Game Four, tying the series at two games apiece.

Doncic had 30 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists in his first game back from a three-game absence because of a strained left calf.

“Getting my wind back,” Doncic said. “A little bit tired now but it felt great to be back.”

He appeared to hit the dagger to seal the win with a three-pointer that gave Dallas a four-point lead (99-95) with 39.1 seconds remaining.

Utah All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert had other plans.

Mitchell cut the Mavericks’ lead to one point by converting a three-point play on the ensuing possession. Mitchell finished with 23 points and seven assists.

Then the Jazz fouled Mavericks center Dwight Powell, who missed both free throws, leaving the door open for Utah.

“Went through my routine like any other free throws,” Powell said, “and unfortunately didn’t do it.”

Rudy Gobert gave the Jazz the 100-99 lead with an alley-oop dunk with 11.0 seconds left. Gobert had 17 points and 15 rebounds, 10 of which were offensive rebounds.

Dallas still had one more chance to take the lead, and Utah was determined not to let Doncic have the final shot. They double-teamed Doncic, forcing him to pass the ball to Spencer Dinwiddie on the right wing for a three-point shot that fell short at the buzzer.

“We didn’t really execute it well,” Doncic said. “I should’ve maybe [driven] the ball more. I should’ve [gotten] a better shot, but it’s tough. We have another game. We’ve just got to learn from it and go onto the next one.”

The Jazz limited the Mavericks to just 18 points in the fourth quarter after surrendering a double-digit lead in the third quarter. Dallas made just two baskets in the first seven minutes of the final period and made just 33% of their shot attempts in the quarter.

Doncic scored nine points in the final quarter, all of which came in the last 5:13. The Mavericks scored just four other points during that same stretch.

Dallas appeared poised to complete yet another double-digit comeback win for most of the second half.

The Mavericks won an NBA-best 17 games after trailing by at least 10 points in the regular season. In comparison, Utah earned a negative reputation by losing 17 games after leading by double-digits during the season.

The Jazz led by 16 points (51-35) with less than two minutes left in the second quarter and 12 points (54-42) at halftime. Dallas made just 5-of-24 three-point attempts in the first two quarters.

Then, the Mavericks’ three-point capabilities ignited in the third quarter as they made 8-of-10. They scored 39 points and limited Utah to just 24 points in the third.

Doncic (seven points), Jalen Brunson (11 points), and Dorian Finney-Smith (11 points) combined for 29 of the Mavericks’ points in the period, and they took an 81-78 lead into the fourth.

Brunson finished with 23 points, while Dorian Finney-Smith scored all of his 11 points in the third quarter. Powell and Reggie Bullock each finished with 11 points as well.

The fourth quarter was a defensive battle with both teams struggling to score. Utah went over three minutes without a basket, but Dallas could not pull away, and the Jazz took a 95-94 lead on a layup from Mitchell with 1:27 remaining.

Doncic scored on the next two possessions, including what appeared to be the decisive game-winning three-pointer before the final sequences ensued.

Utah was buoyed by an impressive performance from its reserves. After the Dallas reserves outscored Utah’s reserves 49-24 in Game Three, Utah responded by getting 35 points from their bench players, compared to just 13 for Dallas in Game Four.

Jordan Clarkson came off the bench and led the Jazz in scoring with 25 points. Most of his scoring came in the second quarter when Utah built its double-digit lead. At one point in the second, Clarkson scored on three consecutive possessions.

The Jazz also had a massive advantage at the free-throw line, making 26-of-42 attempts. In contrast, Dallas made 18-of-23 attempts. Gobert was a major catalyst of Utah’s advantage at the line.

He made 9-of-18 free throws as Dallas, knowing Gobert is not a strong free-throw shooter, consistently fouled the 7-footer. The strategy almost paid off, as Gobert made just 3-of-8 free-throw attempts in the final quarter.

Still, the massive volume of free-throw attempts for Utah was unacceptable for Doncic.

“It’s tough to win a game when you give them 42 free throws,” Doncic said. “We got to stop fouling.”

Game Five takes place Monday night in Dallas, the start of what is now effectively a best-of-three series. Being so close to a 3-1 series lead is painful for Dallas, but on the bright side, the game came down to the final seconds after they overcame a double-digit lead playing in a difficult environment like Utah.

“We were down 12 at the half, and we stayed the course, and it comes down to the last possession,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “If you’re on the road in the playoffs and it comes down to the last play, you can’t ask for a better situation.”

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