That’s all that’s separating the Dallas Mavericks from winning a playoff series for the first time since they defeated the Miami Heat in six games in the 2011 NBA Finals. All of that information will be resonating with the Mavs when they travel to Utah to face the Jazz on Thursday at 9 p.m. in Game 6 of their best-of-seven first-round playoff series.
The Mavs lead the series, 3-2, and only need to win Game 6 or Game 7 – if necessary, Saturday at home — to advance and play a second-round best-of-seven series against the Phoenix Suns-New Orleans Pelicans winner. The Suns-Pelicans series is knotted at 2-2.
But before they start looking ahead to the next series, the Mavs are hoping they can do to the Jazz in Game 6 what they did to them in Game 5 on Monday. The Mavs simply wiped the American Airlines Center floor with the Jazz as they beat them in every statistical category that mattered while running away with a relatively easy 102-77 victory.
It was an attention-getter of a win that the Mavs hope to pack in their luggage and take with them to Salt Lake City for what promises to be a donnybrook.
“We have to approach (Game 6) the same way we did (Game 5),” guard Jalen Brunson said. “At the same time we have to stick together and really stay focused on us.
“They will be ready. They’re not just going to just lay down. They’re going to fight.”
A fight nearly ensued in Game 5 after Jazz center Hassan Whiteside delivered a hard foul on Mavs superstar point guard Luka Doncic when the latter came barreling down the lane while attempting to throw down a hammer dunk with 5:33 remaining in the game and Dallas nursing an 89-65 lead.
By the time the dust settled, Whiteside had drawn two technical fouls and an automatic ejection, and Mavs forwards Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock were each issued a technical foul. But since he was already charged with a technical in the third quarter, Bullock also was ejected from the game.
While Doncic said the skirmish was “nothing,” after the game Jazz coach Quin Snyder said: “I feel like this series has been hard played and clean. I didn’t see the exact situation, but I think there are going to be those moments where emotions get heavy. Both teams want to win, and both are competitive.
“I didn’t see the exact play itself. But I don’t think anybody is trying to do anything other than compete and play hard, and it has been physical under the boards as well.”
In addition to winning Game 5 in resounding fashion, the Mavs beat the Jazz on the boards (49-40), beat them on points in the paint (46-44), beat them in second chance points (14-8), beat them in fast break points (8-7) and also beat them in offensive rebounds (11-7). It was a total masterful job by the Mavs, who held the Jazz to just 37.7 percent shooting.
“Take away the score, the guys just stayed in character,” coach Jason Kidd said. “They stayed with did the game plan, they executed, they trusted one another, they protected one another on the defensive end and they were unselfish on the offensive end, and it’s cool to watch as a coach and as a fan.
“But we’ve been in situations throughout this journey of letting things get away from us — bad losses — and we tend to bounce back. I know everybody talks about the playoffs, but it’s basketball and we’ve seen this before. I thought the guys responded well.”
Kidd also thought Monday’s sellout crowd of 20,577 responded well.
“The fans were incredible for us in supporting us throughout the 48 minutes,” Kidd said. “Now they’re thinking, ‘Hey, we just have to protect home,’ so we’ve got to find a way to apply that pressure.”
Doncic applied a lot of pressure by finishing the game with 33 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. That came one game after he produced 30 points and 10 rebounds on Saturday, which was his first game after missing the opening three games of this series with a strained left calf.
In the third quarter alone, Doncic played like a man possessed as he scored as many points in that quarter (19) as the entire Utah team.
“I think the run in the third I was feeling tired,” Doncic said. “But just getting my air back and hydrated (was important).”
That level of aggression by Doncic in the third quarter took the air completely out of the Jazz, who trailed, 81-55, going into the final quarter.
“The ball was just going in for him,” Brunson said. “We feed off that, the fans feed off that, and so it was great momentum for us and it kind of helped us continue the rest of the game.
“But he’s one of a kind. He makes life a lot easier.”
And because Doncic makes life a lot easier for his teammates, that’s one reason the Mavs have high hopes of closing out the series against the Jazz on Thursday.
“He brings a level of defensive focus that only a couple people in the league have that type of focus,” Brunson said of Doncic. “I just have to be aggressive and I’ve got to just make plays.
“He’s going to be able to draw so much attention, and then when the ball is swinging and moving, people have to be ready to make plays. Whether it’s aggressive for myself or for others, I just knew I had to apply pressure as much as I could.”
And when the Mavs are applying immense defensive pressure like they did in Game 5, “We get to get out and run and gun threes,” Finney-Smith said. “Everybody gets shots when we get stops, so it’s fun. We played fast and we got the win.
“We came out in the first half and gave ourselves a comfortable lead, and picked up where we started in the third quarter. We just got to go in there (Thursday) and handle business and play defense like we did (in Game 5) and play with pace.”
Monday’s win put the Mavs in the same spot they were in last year when they held a 3-2 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of that best-of-seven series. The Clippers subsequently came to Dallas and captured Game 6 (104-97), then went home and won Game 7 (126-111).
The Mavs do not want a repeat performance of any of that, which is why they’ll likely treat Game 6 as if it’s a Game 7.
“We just know that we have to continue to come out with fight,” Bullock said. “We knew how much it hurt the team last year when they made it to the playoffs and exited out in the first round.
“(We’re) coming back this year with a new attitude, coming back this year with a full team and having everybody put in the work daily, (and) coming out with fight to get the job done.”.”
BOGDANOVIC ON THE POOR SHOOTING: Utah was just 3-of-30 from three-point range in Game 5, but Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic expect that to improve in Game 6.
“I think that we were taking bad shots,” Bogdanovic said. “They are playing great and active on defense rotating and trying to force us to take those bad shots.
“I think that we must do a better job offensively moving the ball and playing the right way.”
BRIEFLY: An MRI conducted Tuesday on Donovan Mitchell’s left hamstring was negative, but the Jazz guard has bi-lateral quadriceps contusions. When Game 5 was already a blowout and winding to a close, Mitchell departed with 4:41 remaining with a left hamstring injury. But he said he’ll be fine for Game 6. “I went up to try to finish and it just tightened up on me,” Mitchell said. “I just couldn’t run back on defense, so I had to come out.”. .Although Mitchell is averaging a team-high 26 points in this series, he’s only shooting a chilly 37.9 percent from the field (44-of-116) and an even frostier 19.5 percent from three-point land (8-of-41). Mitchell credits Dorian Finney-Smith’s stellar defense for his shooting woes. Finney-Smith, however, wants to stay humble. “We got one more (game in this series to win),” Finney-Smith said. “I appreciate it, but we’ve got one more. Hopefully he can keep struggling. But he’s going to make tough shots and he can explode quickly.” By the way, Mitchell’s Game 5 plus-minus was an incredible -38. Since the NBA started keeping plus-minus statistics during the 1996-’97 season, that ties for the worst plus-minus by any member of the Jazz during a playoff game, according to ESPN Stats & Info. . .Utah center Rudy Gobert said the mindset of the Jazz in Game 5 was the most disappointing part for him. “It felt like we didn’t really respond to the intensity,” Gobert said. “Then on both ends, I don’t feel like we played. I don’t feel like we matched the intensity and their focus through the way they played.”
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