For Jalen Brunson, the reality was even better than what he’d envisioned for all these many years.
His first playoff game went well. He played great. The Mavericks won. And somewhere, his dad, Rick, was smiling because of the way Jalen handled his first playoff NBA game.
Remember, this is a point guard who won two NCAA championships at Villanova. He’s not exactly a newbie to postseason pressure.
Still . . .
“I remember watching a lot when I was younger, especially having a dad who played in the NBA and has been to the finals and has been through that playoff atmosphere,” Brunson said Monday after the Mavericks’ practice. “It’s one thing when you hear about the stories, then it’s totally different when you experience it.
“But you work your whole life for moments like these. It’s an honor to go out there and compete and not something I take for granted.”
Brunson had 15 points in the 113-103 Game 1 win, including nine in the fourth quarter. He hit all four of his free throws in the final 40 seconds to ice the game.
Nobody’s immune to the pressures of sports, but Brunson always seems to handle it, even in his first playoff game.
“He’s a guy that grew up around professional basketball because his dad was a veteran player,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He studied the game from an early age. And I believe that he’ll eventually one day be a coach when he finishes playing. He’s wired to be a great competitor and to really relish these opportunities to play this time of year, which really is the greatest time of year when you talk about the level of competitiveness, the level of meaning of each game.
“He was the best player on two national championship teams in a three-year period, which is an amazing accomplishment. All that stuff just carries over to his pro career.”
Brunson just knows that he’s trying to make up for last year, when a shoulder injury forced him to miss the playoffs.
“Watching last year was tough,” he said. “It was my first time being away from a team. I really wanted to be part of it. Now that I’m here, I just can’t waste any of it. It wasn’t fun watching from the sidelines. It wasn’t fun at all. But I was proud of what I watched. Even though we lost, I was proud.”
Maxi update: Maxi Kleber, whose importance in guarding Kawhi Leonard cannot be overstated, was limited in practice on Monday, Carlisle said.
He will be listed as questionable for Game 2.
“He’s been a little sore the last couple days,” Carlisle said. “We’ll hope that he’s going to be OK. He went through parts of practice today, but did not go through the whole thing. Some of it was precautionary. Some was because he’s experiencing some discomfort.
“We’ll see where things are tomorrow come game time. There’s a pretty good chunk of time for treatment between now and then. And we’ll hope for the best.”
Lue’s view: The Clippers had a late practice on Monday and coach Ty Lue said his team was not in the business of overreacting to one loss.
“You got to win four games,” Lue said. “They played well, made some shots
He added that limiting players like Brunson, Dorian-Finney-Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr., who combined for 54 points, will be important for the Clippers to knot the series.
Said Ivica Zubac: “We got to limit their catch-and-shoots and make them work harder for them. It’s one game. There are six more to go.”
Rest vs. rust: While the Mavericks appeared to be fresh and full of energy after six days between games.
The Clippers had the same break between games and it was long enough that coach Ty Lue broke tradition during the five days off.
“We did something I’ve never done before and I don’t believe in,” he said. “We actually scrimmaged the other day because guys wanted to play a little bit. I’ve always been scared of that. But I think having so many days to prepare and walk through stuff, guys got a little bored. So we had a little 12-minute scrimmage and guys got up and down and got after it a little.
“It was good to see and we came out of there unscathed and everybody was still healthy. But that’s something I don’t believe in.”
After the Game 1 showing, Lue might be rethinking the decision to scrimmage. He said a lot of his veteran players suggested it, so that was what he went with.
No way of knowing, of course, what impact that could have had in Game 1, if any.
“I never fall for it, but this time I did,” Lue said of his players wanting to scrimmage. “I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again, but I did it.”
Briefly: Brunson on the impact on a game that Luka Dončić has: “There is so much gravitational pull toward him. When the ball is in his hands, everything is focused on him. He brings a lot of attention, on and off the ball.” . . . Carlisle on fighting the temptation to think that the Mavericks are playing with house money, knowing that they will go home for Games 3 and 4 with no worse than a split in LA: “We’re not using any of those terms. This is a business trip. We’re here to play these two games at the highest possible level. We want to win every game we play. But process is so important. It’s a bit challenging with so much time in between the first couple games, but we’ve got to turn it into a positive. There’s things we got to do better in Game 2. We did a lot of things well in Game 1. But that game was very, very, very close. It was not a 10-point game. It got to be a 10-point game when they trapped and fouled a few times at the end. These are all going to be very close games.” . . . The Clippers won both Game 1s in their two playoff series last season, but wound up blowing a 3-1 lead to the Lakers in round 2.
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