After all, when the Mavs advanced to the playoffs – against the Los Angeles Clippers inside the bubble in 2020 – Brunson was unable to participate in any of the six games because he underwent surgery on March 13, 2020, on his right shoulder. And when the Mavs met the Clippers in the first round of last year’s playoffs, Brunson produced an un-Brunson-like series.
In those seven playoff games last season, Brunson averaged just eight points, distributed 10 assists and was just 20-of-44 from the field. But in the six games in this year’s first-round series against the Utah Jazz, Brunson averaged a healthy 27.8 points, dispensed 25 assists and converted 61-of-126 shots, including 12-of-33 baskets from downtown.
“Pretty much I’m over the past two years,” Brunson said. “This year is different for me and I’m looking forward to continuing it and trying to help my team win.”
Brunson played a pivotal role in the Mavs closing out the series against the Jazz in six games. He finished Game 6 with a game-high tying 24 points as the Mavs eliminated the Jazz with a 98-96 victory at Vivint Arena.
Even more to the point, when the Mavs started the game struggling big-time offensively, it was Brunson who scored his team’s first six points. And when the Mavs were desperately trying to hold off the Jazz at the end, it was Brunson who scored his team’s final four points.
“For the rest of today we’ll be happy about it. But starting tomorrow we’ve got a big task at hand. We’ve got to quickly turn the page after tonight.”
The Mavs get to turn the page and start a best-of-seven series in Phoenix on Monday because of the major production they received from Brunson against the Jazz. When Luka Doncic missed the first three games of this series with a strained left calf, Brunson kept the ship afloat with 24, 41 and 31 points in the first three game of this series, respectively.
And when Doncic returned for Game 4, Brunson tallied 23, 24 and 24 points in the last three games of this series, respectively.
“We got everything we could out of JB in this series,” coach Jason Kidd said. “To start the series without Luka, and have Spencer (Dinwiddie) and JB carry us until Luka got back, and then to be able to play with Luka as he has done all season, he was big for us on both ends.”
Brunson was certainly big down the stretch in Game 6. It was his three-point bucket from the corner off a pass from Doncic that snapped a tie and put the Mavs ahead for good at 97-94 with 2:02 remaining in the game.
“The ball found me,” Brunson said. “I just lined it up and shot it.
Brunson later split a pair of free throws with 4.3 seconds left to account for the game’s final point. But the Mavs had to sweat things out at the end as Utah’s Bojan Bogdanovic missed a wide open three-pointer – as Dinwiddie flew past him — as time expired that would have won the game for the Jazz.
“I probably looked like a deer in the headlights when Spencer flew by him,” Brunson said. “But once (Bogdanovic) missed it, we let out a big gas of air. That was a real good look.”
Brunson tallied nine of the 15 points the Mavs scored in the first quarter, and helped the Mavs rally from a 53-41 halftime deficit.
“It’s big time knowing that we were able to kind of fight through that,” said Brunson, who was 9-of-17 from the field. “You’ve got to give Utah’s fans credit. They’re great. Great fan base. It was loud n there.”
But the Mavs fought through the noise while showing a lot of grit and preventing the series from being extended to a seventh game.
“We were able to get in the paint, touch each other and make things happen,” Brunson said. “I think in the first half, myself for sure, I really was just trying to get in the paint and create a problem and was just not really doing what the game plan was.
“And then in the second half we knew we had to turn around quick, and we were able to click better on the defensive end and then offensively not really worry about it as much, because we were really focusing on defense.”
That focus on defense helped the Mavs outscore the Jazz, 36-19, in the third quarter and limit them to just 43 points in the second half.
“He did everything to put his team in position to win and his teammates helped him,” Kidd said of Brunson. “His footwork is incredible. It’s kind of like that boxer-type footwork – or soccer – where you can control your lower half and still know where you want to get to.
“But also it’s probably in the family. And then also the fundamentals from his high school or elementary coach just understanding how cool it is to have the fundamentals of footwork of being able to pivot and still be aggressive or still be a threat to score the ball.”
BEE STUNG GOBERT: Jazz center Rudy Gobert had some swelling in his face after he said he was stung by a bee Tuesday at his home.
Gobert, who owns a beehive, said he was stung while the queen bee was being changed. He also said it’s the third time he’s been stung and that his vision wasn’t affected by the sting.
Gobert said there re a few good things why he owns a beehive.
“It’s good for the environment, it’s good for the landscape, the flowers, the fruits,” Gobert said. “And I love honey.
“So I always wanted to have my own. It’s great. Sometimes there’s some casualties.”
A big-time shot-blocker, Gobert was not in position to swat away the bee in time to prevent from being stung. Gobert originally joked to the media that: “It was like seven guys, but I was the only one who came out of the room.”
Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of Gobert’s incident: “I know Rudy is right eye dominant, so I’m just glad the bee stung him in his left eye. Other than that, I know bee pollen is rumored to be very potent nutraceutical.”
Utah, by the way, is known as the Beehive State
RELAXED GROUP: Before Game 6, coach Jason Kidd talked about the “relaxed group” that the Mavs have assembled.
“We’re having fun, but they’re really basic,” Kidd said. “A lot of times we’re trying to stay away from each other because everybody’s trying to get rest. But more or less, when we are around each other it’s a fun group. They tease one another.”
Tease one another?
“We give each other a hard time,” Kidd said. “I know this might not sound right, but players give coaches a hard time and the coaches give the players a hard time. In a fun way. Not in a way of trying to embarrass anybody.
“But there is a lot of poking at the coaches of the way they might present something or repeat themselves, or say there’s two more clips and there’s really 10 (more). But it’s all in fun. But it also lets us know that they’re paying attention.”
PINSON GETS IT STARTED: For those watching all the cheering going on over on the Mavs’ bench, coach Jason Kidd said itr starts with guard Theo Pinson.
Pinson is standing and cheering and is so involved in whatever’s going on during the game that he can sometimes be mistaken for an assistant coach. His enthusiasm has been infectious and has led to many of the other Mavs’ players on the bench also standing and joining in on the fun.
Kidd said the Mavs were lucky to get Pinson on a two-way contract.
“I think it was through all the 10-day (contracts) that we were pulling guys off the street,” Kidd said. “I’m not saying we pulled him off the streets, but he gave us something that we didn’t have.
“And now he has a group over there — the bench — they’re all into the game from the jump ball to the end, no matter win or lose. Those guys are connected, the team is connected and he’s been a big part of our success.”
EXACTLY 11 YEARS AGO: Thursday was exactly 11 years ago when the Mavs closed out their first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers in six games with a 103-96 victory in Portland.
Following that series, the Mavs swept the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in four games, beat Oklahoma City in five games, and rallied from a 2-1 deficit to defeat the Miami Heat in six games in the NBA Finals. Jason Kidd – now the Mavs’ coach – was the starting point guard on that team and said of the April 28, 2011 series-clinching win over the Blazers:
“That was a long time ago when we won in Portland. I just remember a lot of people didn’t think we were going to get out of the first round. That’s kind of similar to this situation.
“You’ve got to play the game on the court and we found a way to win the series, but this is a special group. They truly believe small or big – and we’re not very big – they find a way to win. And they have fun doing it, and hopefully this gives us confidence going against the best team in the NBA (in Phoenix) right now.”