After losing Game 1 10 days ago, the Mavericks were one point shy of sweeping the next four games from the Utah Jazz.
There’s nothing they can do about that 100-99 loss at Utah in Game 4.
But the way they came back from it is a wonderful sign that this season is going to last a little longer, even if this best-of-seven first-round series could still go the distance.
The Mavericks blew out Utah late Monday night 102-77 and it was easily their sharpest game of the series.
“We all understood what needed to be done – just stick together and regroup,” Jalen Brunson said of recovering from the heartbreaker in Utah. “They’re a team that’s going to try to bounce back as well. It’s going to be tough, but I think we’re up for it.”
The Mavericks have been very good at putting games behind them, win or lose, and moving forward. Coach Jason Kidd was correct after Monday’s big win that all the Mavericks really did was protect their home court.
They still need one more win to get out of the first round. And they found out last year just how hard it can be to hammer that final nail into the coffin. The Mavericks were up 3-2 last year on the Los Angeles Clippers, just as they are up 3-2 now on the Jazz.
The difference is they hit the road for Game 6 on Thursday. Last year, Game 6 was at home and Game 7 was on the road. Maybe the reverse order will be their elixir.
But first, let’s revel in Game 5 with our takeaways:
LUKA LOOKED AWESOME: Though he had a slow start with just two first-quarter points – unusual for him – Luka Dončić was the best player on the court Monday night. Particularly in the third quarter, when he had 19 of his 33 points and the Mavericks stashed the game away. “He had some great looks in the first half,” Kidd said. “And then he got going in the third. Luka, for a second game back, looks like he’s been playing the whole series. His conditioning, his effort on the defensive end, rebounding the ball, he’s one of the best for us and he did that for us tonight.” Luka’s strained left calf muscle is fading into the distance.
FIGHTING SPIRIT: The Mavericks did the right thing when Dončić got shoved to the floor by Hassan Whiteside midway through the fourth quarter. The other four Mavericks came rushing to their franchise player’s aid. And, very importantly, it appeared that none of the other Mavericks came off the bench, which is an automatic suspension-worthy action in the NBA. Escalating a kerfuffle is a sure ticket to missing the next game. But the Mavericks made it clear they have Luka’s back and they didn’t do anything obvious to incur the wrath of the league. “We know they’re going to try to hit Luka,” said Dorian Finney-Smith, who was first on the scene to make sure his teammate wasn’t harmed. “They’ve been hitting JB (Jalen Brunson) lately, too. So we just got to protect ourselves and each other and win games.”
THE DEFENSE NEVER RESTED: Largely because of Finney-Smith’s work against Donovan Mitchell, the Mavericks had their best defensive game of the series and maybe of the season. Yes, Utah missed some shots that maybe they normally make. But when you shoot 10-of-30 from 3-point range, the other team is doing something to cause that. The Jazz shot just 37 percent overall. The Mavericks know those numbers probably are not repeatable in Game 6. But it will be the Jazz’s job to sweep away those bad vibes of Game 5 and get their shooting eyes back at home.
PUT A BUG IN THEIR EAR: Dwight Powell is a more effective player when Luka is feeding him lob passes as they work in tandem on the high pick-and-roll. Powell hit four of the Mavericks’ first seven baskets – three dunks, one layup – and they got out to a 16-8 lead. Powell didn’t do a lot statistically after that, but the foundation was poured. The Mavericks had let Utah know that the lob threat was going to be there and if the Jazz didn’t address it, they would pay. And then in the third quarter, everything else opened up for Luka. Powell’s presence gives the Jazz another issue to deal with.
AND-ONE: Dončić is known for his step-back 3-pointers, but truth be told, he gets just as much or maybe even more enjoyment from the old-fashioned 3-point plays where he gets fouled while making a shot. “For me, and-ones give me hype,” he said. “The old school three-point play gives me hype.” One such play was when he gave several pump fakes in the paint and got Rudy Gobert off balance. He then flipped a shot up that found the net while getting fouled. “I didn’t know if he was going to jump, but he jumped and I went up,” Luka said. It’s a crowd-pleasing kind of play, not to mention a shot of adrenaline for the Mavericks.
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