Jalen Brunson is the type of person who prefers to meet a situation head on.
So, when Brunson analyzed the stat sheets from his last four playoff games against the Los Angeles Clippers, the third-year Dallas Mavericks’ guard got a lump in his throat.
In the first three games of the best-of-seven series against the Clippers, Brunson averaged 12.7 points and shot a sizzling 59.1 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from 3-point range. Consequently, the Mavs went 2-1 during that span.
However, in the final four games of the series, Brunson made just 31.8 percent of his shots and 33.3 percent of his 3-pointers, and the Mavs went 1-3. Also, Brunson managed just one plus/minus game in the plus category – a plus nine in Game 6 – during the entire series.
As the Mavs cleaned out their lockers earlier this week, Brunson declared that what happened to his game in the last four contests against the Clippers is something that he’ll go back and watch. He views it more as an aberration than a constant, particularly since he has a proclivity to be very reliable and efficient.
“It’s going to be on my mind all summer,” Brunson said. “That’s really all that needs to be said. I know what I can do to make myself a better player, learning from my mistakes or learning from what I didn’t do well. It’ll be a great summer in the fact that I can learn from this and move forward.”
This was Brunson’s first NBA playoff series after he sat out last summer’s postseason experience in the bubble against the Clippers after undergoing surgery to address an injury to the labrum of his right shoulder. In the meantime, Brunson was the master of consistency during the regular season.
In 68 games, the 6-1, 190-pounder averaged 12.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 25 minutes, and also shot a healthy 52.3 percent from the floor and 40.5 percent from beyond the 3-point stripe. That effectiveness netted Brunson a fourth-place finish in the battle for the NBA’s Sixth Man Award, which Utah’s Jordan Clarkson won.
Overall, Brunson scored 20 or more points 10 times this season, including a 31-point, five-rebound, seven-assist outing against the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 3. That’s the first Mavs player not named Luka Doncic to record a 30-point, five-rebound, seven-assist game since Deron Williams accomplished it in December, 2015.
But individual awards are not what drives Brunson. In the end, he acknowledged, it’s all about the team’s success.
“All of the awards and stuff like that, I don’t really focus on that,” Brunson said. “I just focus on what can I do to help this team and help bring wins to this team.
“Winning trumps everything. So that individual stuff doesn’t really matter to me.”
Brunson led Villanova to NCAA championships in 2016 and 2018, so he knows how to reach the mountaintop. And he will bend over backwards trying to get the Mavs to the top of the mountain.
“Whatever the team needs me to do, that’s always been kind of how I’ve operated,” Brunson said. “I know what I have to do.
“I know what I have to do to help this team be successful. I just have to do it on a more consistent level.”
Asked what he wants to improve on this offseason, Brunson bluntly said: “Everything. Consistency is key.
“Being consistent, working on my game as a whole, working on my body, just being ready to go mentally and physically. I think that’s also important.”
As far as the Mavs coming ever so close to getting out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2011, Brunson believes it’s only a matter of time before they’ll be able to check that box.
“I think where we were – the position we were in this past week – we just got to learn from it,” Brunson said. “I think with that experience it’s definitely going to help us going forward.
“I truly believe we have a lot on this team. We have a lot of guys who are really critical to this team. I think with the (playoff) experience that we’ve had in the past two years – with me it’s just the past year – I think it’s going to go a long way. We’re going to learn from it.”
And learn not to repeat history. Especially if the Mavs run into the Clippers again in the playoffs.
“We have a bunch of hungry guys on this team, so I know that it’s not going to sit well with them all summer,” Brunson said. “I think we’re going to come back hungry.”
Meanwhile, Brunson said it won’t be long before he’s back in the gym trying to improve his craft.
“I can’t not be in a gym,” Brunson said. “I’ll definitely take a little bit of time to reflect, see where I can improve at and then once my mind clicks off idle, then I’ll be ready to go.”