Dallas • In Monday night’s Game 2 at American Airlines Center, the Utah Jazz’s offense constantly kept getting them out of trouble.
As a result, they wasted a prime opportunity to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series, ultimately falling 110-104.
ESPN reporter Tim MacMahon, citing ESPN Stats & Info, noted that “the Mavericks made 17 uncontested 3s in the win, the most by any team in the past 10 postseasons.”
It started in the first quarter with Jalen Brunson and proved lethal in the fourth quarter with Maxi Kleber.
“There were a few of them, particularly early in the game, where we had a couple breakdowns that weren’t related to penetration. … In the latter stages of the game where we all felt it, the challenge is to do a better job containing the ball,” said coach Quin Snyder. “And if we aren’t able do that, to come and be able to protect the rim, and them when the ball is kicked out, to get out to those shooters.”
The 1-1 series now shifts to Salt Lake City for Games 3 and 4.
As Snyder noted, “I thought we were a step slow from the beginning of the game.”
And indeed, the Jazz had to overcome a flurry of first-quarter defensive mistakes in which Brunson made them pay for repeatedly going under screens. The team’s usual sixth man, starting now in place of the injured Luka Doncic, went on an opening-quarter heater, drilling 6 of 7 shots, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, for 15 points.
Brunson was slowed momentarily in the second period (shooting 2 for 7), but Dallas as a team remained hot from 3-point range, drilling 5 of 10.
Still, with Utah doing work in the paint and at the line, they kept pace. The frenetic action was back-and-forth throughout, as neither team led by more than two possessions until Gobert’s pair of free throws pushed the Jazz’s advantage to seven just before halftime.
Still, every time the Jazz seemed on the verge of pulling away in the second half, Dallas would surge back, as those early defensive miscues became representative of the game as a whole.
Time after time, players either didn’t communicate or were simply confused as to whether they should switch or stay with their man.
As a result, it was Dallas that buried its opponent under an onslaught of 3-pointers.
The Mavericks committed only three turnovers all night, and wound up hitting 22 of 47 tries from beyond the arc. Kleber made 8 of 11 (seven of which were uncontested), Brunson 6 of 10, Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith hit 3 apiece. Brunson became the first player in Mavs history to score 40-plus points (he finished with 41) while not committing a single turnover.
Clearly the Jazz have work to do with point-of-attack perimeter defense.
“We’ve got to all embrace defense. All of us,” said Rudy Gobert. “And we’ve got to understand we can guard any lineup — we’ve done it. Some games we’ve struggled, some games we’ve done it consistently, we’ve done it successfully. It’s just gotta be who we are. … We’ve got to shift our minds to defense and be ready to guard and to communicate and to do all those things that are not as fun, but that we need to do if we want to win.”
For what it’s worth, his most prominent teammate acknowledged that the problems they displayed Monday are fixable.
“It’s all stuff we can fix. It starts on the ball,” said Donovan Mitchell. “You have to keep guys in front, we can shift and make it tougher, the driving lanes were wide open. We’ve got to guard the ball — we’ve got to do a better job at that and then limit the wide-open 3s.”
Such outside-shooting totals are usually the purview of the Jazz, who finished the regular season with the league’s No. 1-rated offense.
But once again, it was not a quintessential Utah onslaught, where they went crazy from beyond the arc. Indeed, for the second consecutive game, the Jazz were relatively subdued from 3, converting a solid percentage (37.9), but made total (11) and attempted total (29) far below the norm.
Still, they made great use of the in-between spaces — getting into the paint either for shots at the rim or in the midrange.
That the Jazz were consistent on offense at all was something of a minor miracle, considering foul trouble among their short-handed guard line was constantly messing with their momentum.
Mike Conley picked up three fouls — two of them of the take variety — in the first half after just 10 minutes of court time. His fourth came less than a minute into the third period. His replacement, Jordan Clarkson — one of the team’s most consistent bucket-getters throughout — fared no better, picking up his fourth foul with almost five minutes left in the third quarter, and his fifth foul less than two minutes into the final period.
Mitchell finished with 34 points and Bojan Bogdanovic added 25. Clarkson wound up contributing 21 on 8-for-11 shooting — while playing only 22:44. But Conley — who tweaked his ankle in the first quarter and had to get it re-taped in the locker room — went scoreless on seven shots, in 22:13 of action.
“When you’re taking the ball out of the net …” Snyder began. “I’ve stressed before the importance of needing to run.”
Still, as Clarkson pointed out, this game came down to Utah’s failings on the defensive end.
“We’ve just got to rotate, communicate, contest those shots,” he said.
With the game in the balance, they simply couldn’t string any stops together. Dallas outscored them 33-23 in the fourth quarter thanks to shooting 11 of 18 over the final 12 minutes.
Asked if those defensive mistakes and the barrage of open 3s was worrisome, on account of that being how the Jazz were eliminated from the postseason the year prior, Mitchell expressed confidence.
“I’m not too concerned, because I had a bad ankle and Mike had a bad hamstring — they were supposed to beat us off the dribble,” Mitchell said. “Now, this is something we can fix.”
Snyder agreed that Utah’s players have the capacity to solve this problem — before it becomes a season-ending one.
“We weren’t sharp in our ability to rotate, [but] that’s something we’ve done before. It’s obviously a challenge,” he said. “… We’ve prepared — we’ve prepared for it extensively. This isn’t something that’s foreign to our group — the ability to stay in front and not give up both directions. Rotating to the corner is something we know how to do. We’ve got to be there quicker.”
Gobert also pointed out one crucial difference between this breakdown and last year’s Clippers series — there’s still time.
“The good thing is it’s Game 2, it’s not Game 6 with the series on the line,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of time to watch film, to adjust, for all of us — individually and collectively — to see the things we can do better.”