When the Dallas Mavericks spent Thursday morning discussing how loud Vivint Arena gets, they probably didn’t envision one of the loudest moments of the night being the crowd booing the Utah Jazz off the court at halftime.
Then again, it was deserved. Utah was making the same mistakes it made in Game 2 — playing isolation-heavy offense, putting up near-zero resistance on defense, and once again getting annihilated by an avalanche of 3-pointers from role players.
Before the third quarter was up, the Jazz were back in the fans’ good graces — a small-ball adjustment by Quin Snyder (featuring Eric Paschall playing over both Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside) having energized the group into trimming a 17-point deficit down to six by the period’s end, and prompting a proper playoff atmosphere from those in attendance …
Only for fans and players and coaches alike to go home disappointed, as the Mavericks held on for a 126-118 victory, seizing a 2-1 lead in the first-round series, despite injured superstar Luka Doncic not having played a second of action thus far.
“It’s part of the game. And we weren’t playing well. We got booed. I booed the hell out of the TV when I was a fan,” Donovan Mitchell noted afterward when asked for his reaction to the fans’ reaction. “It’s not personal. There’s an expectation around us, it’s no secret about that — everybody expects us to take care of business, and we didn’t in the first half. So we got booed.”
It looked for a time, like the Jazz would be able to salvage the night after such a disappointing start.
The pivotal moment came at the 5:33 mark of the third, and Utah trailing 83-66, when Snyder brought Whiteside to the bench in favor of Paschall. With the energetic forward alongside Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, and Royce O’Neale, the Jazz’s intensity immediately picked up, and the team began a pivotal run.
“It felt like playing Eric would give us an opportunity to open up the floor,” said Snyder. “Offensively, we had a really good burst at that point where we were able to get to the rim.”
It kept up even when Mike Conley and Danuel House replaced Bogey and O’Neale.
The versatility, switchability, quickness, and energy permeated the lineup, and it showed in the results — a 40-point period featuring 18 points from Mitchell alone and a dozen more by Bogdanovic. (It didn’t hurt that Dallas could not space the floor as well once Maxi Kleber went to the bench with his fifth foul.)
“The biggest thing was our intensity [picking up,” said Mitchell. “… We got stops and we ran. That’s something that we need to capitalize on as the series goes on.”
Gobert said he embraced and applauded the change, even though it sent him to the bench, because he saw the impact it had on changing the game. In his mind, the real problem is that the players didn’t do a good enough job recognizing and adapting to problems themselves, before Snyder took it out of their hands.
“We’ve got to adjust, be able to adjust quicker on the fly on the court,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to wait until halftime.”
The Jazz would eventually get to within a single point, 103-102 with 6:42 remaining, on a seismic Conley 3-pointer. They would get no closer.
Spencer Dinwiddie got free for a layup, and Bogdanovic missed a tying 3. Dinwiddie got yet another layup, and Bogey missed yet another 3. By the time Jalen Brunson — who’s now totaled a combined 72 points against only one turnover in the past two games — made a layup with 4:35 remaining to put the Mavs up seven, it felt like another winnable game had slipped away.
A 13-4 run would have Dallas back into a double-digit lead with less than 2 minutes to play. And as Kleber dunked with just over a minute left, some of those who had not left already brought events full-circle and began booing once again.
Still, the team tried hard to sell the comeback, that second-half surge as a sign of progress, some silver lining to latch onto for some semblance of hope going forward.
“I like what we did in the second half. I like the way we came out defensively,” said Gobert. “The offense takes care of itself when we play with that intensity defensively. The thing for us now is, can we have that intensity defensively for 48 minutes?”
Well, he’s not wrong. Problem is, that’s not exactly a newfound problem.
Utah actually had a relatively prolific offensive night — shooting nearly 57% from the field, while Mitchell finished with 32 points, Bogdanovic added 24, Conley had 21, Gobert 15, and Clarkson 14. But they were terrible again from beyond the arc (9 of 28), and, more importantly, terrible again at defending the arc, as the Mavs went 18 of 42. Point-of-attack perimeter defense was once again problematic for much of the night.
“In the end, we’ve still got to be able to contain the ball,” said Snyder. “When the ball gets in the paint, that creates problems for us.”
Conley noted that Utah’s backcourt and wing players simply didn’t do (and haven’t done) a good enough job staying in front of their man.
“I think we get too reliant upon [Gobert’s rim protection]. He is DPOY multiple times for a reason, and we’ve funneled everything to him for years, that’s who we are,” he said. “… I don’t think it’s a physical thing — I can guard, Royce can guard, House can guard, you can go down the line. We can slide our feet, we can stay in front multiple dribbles. We have to get back to high school [level principles] and help each other.”
Mitchell, asked why the defensive intensity didn’t pick up until Paschall checked in, initially contemplated the query silently for a few seconds before he replied, “Good question.”
He went on to explain that the Mavs’ early shooting success got the Jazz demoralized for a time, and they had to dig themselves out of a hole.
“In my honest opinion, they came out and they hit shots, and that’s a deflating feeling, taking the ball out of the net every possession,” Mitchell said. “That can become a mental thing at times. We were able to get over it — even when we didn’t make shots in the second half, we continued to battle, continued to fight.”
Of course, by not battling and fighting from the outset, the Jazz now have a considerably bigger hole to try and climb out of.
Game 4 is on Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. MT.