It’s been over 10 months since Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson drove hard into the paint for a basket during a Feb. 22 game at the Atlanta Hawks. Unfortunately, what happened on that drive severely altered Brunson’s life.
On the play that occurred just 10 seconds into the game, Hawks center Dewayne Dedmon levied a hard foul on Brunson’s right shoulder that had the Villanova product writhing in pain. That foul prematurely ended Brunson’s season, and on March 13 he underwent surgery to address the injury to the labrum of his right shoulder.
So, when Brunson was finally able to play his first regular-season game on Wednesday night against the Phoenix Suns since that devastating injury against the Hawks, he was happy as a lark.
“I felt great,” Brunson said. “It felt really good to be out there. I never take that for granted.”
Brunson wound up playing 18 minutes against the Suns and scoring 12 points and dishing out four assists. More importantly, when this regular season opener appeared to be slipping away from the Mavs, it was Brunson who played a major role in keeping them afloat.
After the Suns built an 83-71 lead with 10:59 remaining in the game, Brunson either scored or assisted 16 of the Mavs’ ensuing 25 points. He scored on jumpers, on driving layups, and on a pair of free throws.
And it was Brunson’s defensive rebound and long outlet pass to Willie Cauley-Stein – he dunked it – that knotted the game at 96 with 3:38 to go.
“Brunson did a great job in the fourth quarter,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I think he played pretty much the whole (fourth quarter).
“He was aggressive, he threw in a couple of really difficult shots. But he has terrific concentration and he has a knack for doing those kinds of things.”
Overall, Brunson was 5-of-8 from the field. But since he scored all of his points in the fourth quarter, he has already personally challenged himself to be more productive in the game’s first three quarters going forward.
“I definitely started out a little slow for my liking, individually,” Brunson said. “Obviously in the fourth quarter I picked it up a bit, but I’ve got to play like that from the moment I step in the game. I can’t ease up into that.
“It’s on me to start the game like that.”
Since this was Brunson’s first regular season game in 305 days, the Mavs were pleased with what they got from the three-year veteran.
“JB doing what he does,” forward Dorian Finney-Smith said. “He lives in the paint, he gets to the free throw line and he finds guys, so we definitely miss that.
“He’s a great player. I know he’s happy.”
Brunson would have been even happier had the Mavs been able to eke out a win over the Suns, who prevailed, 106-102. But he hopes things will turn out better when the Mavs play the Lakers in Los Angeles on Friday at 7 p.m. CT.
“I’m proud of the way we fought,” Brunson said. “We’re going to get it right. This is the first step. We’re going to get it right. I think for us this was definitely a learning experience.
“We’ve got to learn that what happens in the first quarter can hurt you in the fourth. You just got to take every moment in that game and play it like it matters, and that goes from the first guy to the 15th guy. We’ve all got to have that same mindset. I think we did. We just got to make sure we play it for 48 minutes. We’ve got to come back and prepare for a great team and be prepared. It’s not going to be easy, but we’ve got the team to do it.”
Thunder-Rockets game postponed: NBA officials said Wednesday’s season-opener in Houston between the Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder was postponed in accordance with the league’s Health and Safety Protocols. In an email sent out to media members, the NBA said:
“Three Houston Rockets players have returned tests that were either positive or inconclusive for coronavirus under the NBA’s testing program. Following the contact tracing protocol, four other players are quarantined at this time. Additionally, James Harden is unavailable due to a violation of the Health and Safety Protocols.”
When the NBA had a restart of the 2019-20 season in Orlando this past July, the games were played inside a bubble on the Walt Disney World campus. But now, the games will be played in the team’s home arenas.
So what’s the difference and how much of an adjustment is it from playing in the bubble and in the regular NBA arenas?
“The difference between the Orlando situation and now is there’s travel,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “A lot of the protocols are very similar. State-to-state we’re going to see that there are differences with regulations and we’re going to experience that on this (three-game road) trip.
“Arizona and California are quite different in terms of what’s permissible. But the idea is to be safe, to take as many precautions as possible and try to stay out of harm’s way.”
The Mavs opened the season Wednesday night in Phoenix and will play their next two games in California before returning home to host the Charlotte Hornets on Dec. 30. The Mavs will battle the Lakers in Los Angeles on Friday and the Clippers in Los Angeles on Sunday.
“Again, a lot of this is just going to be the day-to-day things that you can do to stay clear of the virus,” Carlisle said. “It’s hard work staying clear of the virus, but it can be done.”
Also, the Mavs will have some unusual challenges in Los Angeles.
“We go to LA and we’re not allowed to meet in the hotel,” Carlisle said. “We can’t have meetings of more than three or four people, something like that.
“So team meetings are going to be challenging. But we have a plan and we’ll figure out the best way to communicate everything we need to communicate.”