Jalen Brunson may yet be a great candidate for the NBA’s sixth man of the year award.

But right now, there’s probably no way coach Jason Kidd can get him out of the starting lineup. Not after Wednesday night.

With San Antonio’s defense determined to make life difficult for Luka Dončić, Brunson cut loose with perhaps the best overall performance of his career to power the Mavericks in the fourth quarter to a 109-108 victory over the Spurs at AT&T Center.

The 6-1 Brunson, who has love playing in San Antonio ever since his Villanova Wildcats won the NCAA championship there in 2018, had 31 points, including 13 in a row during the pivotal fourth-quarter stretch. He tacked on 10 rebounds for good measure. The points were three shy of his career high set in his rookie season.

“It’s a credit to Luka,” Brunson said. “At any game situation, if he calls for the ball, you’re probably going to give it to him. He just has that type of respect.

“For him to let me do what I did in those last couple minutes just shows that he trusts not just me, but the team. And that’s big time. It gives everyone confidence.”

Brunson said with the way teams are playing against Dončić, it’s going to be incumbent on everybody else to keep the Mavericks’ offense flowing.

“He demands a lot of respect,” Brunson said. “So we got to be ready to make plays for each other and ourselves. Luka put us in position to be successful. That’s what he does and we respect him and applaud him and he trusts us. So that’s a big step for us.”

You’d think Brunson was giving Dončić the game ball. But if he had, Luka probably would have just passed it back to Brunson on this night.

What Brunson has done in just a little over a 24-hour span is score 56 points in his first two games as a starter this season. Clearly the backcourt tandem of him and Dončić has gotten some immediate traction.

“He’s a winner, loves the competition and is not afraid of the moment as you could see,” Kidd said. “I probably messed him up there at the end to tell him to miss the free throw, so I owe him a point.

“But I think he can start. Coming off the bench he gives us instant energy. And so, he’s a true pro. I think you can use him in both roles. He could make a case to start, and that’s not a bad thing.”

On this night, what Brunson did was a think of beauty. Not that he didn’t have help. Dončić, even with the Spurs dogging him everywhere, rolled up 23 points, as did Tim Hardaway Jr.

But this was a setup night for Brunson.

“He was attacking (Doug) McDermott in the pick and roll,” Dončić said. “He (Brunson) was hot. We just wanted to get the ball in his hands.”

Starting from the five-minute mark in the fourth quarter, he rattled off 13 consecutive Mavericks’ points. The Spurs were battling every possession and trying to trap Dončić and get the ball out of his hands.

He obliged and Brunson took over. His points were absolutely crucial as the Mavericks were clinging to a 107-104 lead with 12 seconds left. The Spurs Dejounte Murray (23 points, nine rebounds, eight assists) made one of two free throws and Frank Ntilikina was fouled. He calmly sank both and the Mavericks were up by four. When Lonnie Walker canned a 3-pointer with 4 seconds left, the Spurs still had life.

Brunson was fouled with 2.7 showing and when he missed the first free throw, Kidd messaged to him to intentionally miss the second, which he did, although he didn’t hit the rim.

So the Spurs inbounded in their backcourt and a long pass to the other end, one that was contested on the throw-in by Boban Marjanović, sailed into the Mavericks’ hands and the game was done.

It was just enough to get the Mavericks to 5-3 and finish a stretch of five games in seven days on a positive note. They played without Maxi Kleber (left oblique strain) and Kristaps Porzingis (lower back) and also lost Reggie Bullock to a facial injury in the first half.

But Brunson was playing the role of igniter and he would not be denied.

“Brunson was great from start to finish,” Kidd said. “He was great (Tuesday) night. Great carryover. He gives us a second ballhandler. Also, he’s a guy who can put the ball in the basket and is comfortable playing alongside Luka.

“I think there’s a lot of growth in tonight’s game, not just from Brunson, but from Luka, understanding that Brunson was going, so pass the baton. And Brunson took us home.”

Twitter: @ESefko

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