It wasn’t long after the Mavericks’ 99-93 Game 1 loss to Utah when Jason Kidd zeroed in on the major difference-maker.
“They didn’t score 100 points and when you do that in today’s basketball, it tends to give you a chance to win,” Kidd said. “But we just didn’t have enough offensive power.”
It’s hard to fault the Mavericks’ game plan for the best-of-seven series opener. They gave themselves a chance. Defense and a grind-it-out offense were the ways to make up for the absence of their superstar.
If the biggest adjustments in a playoff series happen between games 1 and 2, the biggest one the Mavericks could make doesn’t involve strategy. Just get Luka Dončić back on the floor.
Nothing else has to change.
But the Mavericks know that’s iffy at best. Dončić has missed a week of practice time and the opening game since the strained left calf muscle suffered on April 10.
Until he returns, the Mavericks are going to have to continue to rely on their defense and wait for the return of their superstar.
And with that, here’s our takeaways from Game 1.
DON’T CHANGE A THING: Defensively, at least, the Mavericks did everything right. They scrambled to the Jazz’s 3-point shooters, who only got off 22 attempts, barely half of their season average. They only made seven of them. They didn’t allow a bunch of lob passes to Rudy Gobert, who got just one shot at the rim. They held the most efficient offense in the NBA to 99 points. What’s not to like? The only problem the Mavericks had defensively was finishing those possessions with a rebound. There were a lot of times they couldn’t do that. And Utah’s 20 second-chance points, including Royce O’Neale’s 3-pointer that put the Jazz up 95-91 and was the dagger that put the Mavericks in an 0-1 hole.
NOW, ABOUT THAT OFFENSE: The Mavericks played uglyball and it almost worked. But you still have to put the ball in the basket and they simply didn’t do it well enough. Jalen Brunson showed he’s focused on making up for an underwhelming playoff run last year against the Los Angeles Clippers. He was assertive and piled up 24 points. But he missed some shots he often makes. Same for Spencer Dinwiddie, who had 22 points, but also missed six free throws. These are the not-so-little things that derail a team in a winnable playoff game. And this game certainly was winnable.
GET A BIRD-DOG ON BOGEY: Bojan Bogdanovic was an 18-point scorer during the regular season but piled up 20 in the first half of Game 1, finishing with 26. He kept the Jazz afloat while Donovan Mitchell was struggling in the first half. During the regular season, Bogdanovic was not a great shooter on the road (33.7 percent from 3-point range. His percentage was nearly 10 points higher at home. But the 6-7 forward didn’t do his damage from the 3-point arc. He was just 2-of-6. He posted up Spencer Dinwiddie too often and got favorable results. The Mavericks will have to look at their defense on Bogey in Game 2 and decide if there might be a more favorable matchup. But Reggie Bullock is busy with Mike Conley and Dorian Finney-Smith has to check Mitchell, who averaged nearly 26 points in the regular season. Something has to give.
CALLING ALL RESERVES: The Mavericks’ bench was reduced to three players – Josh Green, Maxi Kleber and Davis Bertāns. They were outscored 20-14 by Utah’s reserves – Hassan Whiteside, Danuel House Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. Not coincidentally, the final score also was a six-point differential. The Mavericks are shorthanded without Luka, so they are going to have to stretch minutes and rely on somebody to come off the bench and provide the necessary boost. It could make a huge difference in the rest of the series if Luka doesn’t return soon.
GAME 2 IMPORTANCE: How big is Game 2 for the Mavericks? Teams that win the first two games of a best-of-seven series on the road go on to win the series 84.4 percent of the time (27-5). Of the five teams that have come back from 2-0 holes after losing the first two games at home, three of them have come in the last 20 years: The LA Clippers last year against the Mavericks, 2017 when Boston came back against Chicago and the Mavericks against Houston in 2005. All of those series were in the first round.