DALLAS — The buzzards are flying close to Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City with the Dallas Mavericks entering Game 4 of the opening round with a shocking 2-1 series lead against the Utah Jazz that has come while missing their All-NBA guard.
With Luka Doncic recovering from a calf strain, the absence was seen as a shot to the heart for the Mavs’ playoff chances prior to the start of the series. Instead, the first three games have been an undeniable coming out party for the ascending Jalen Brunson.
Dallas has the Jazz with their backs to the wall after career-defining performances from their backup point guard, who was called upon to take Doncic’s role and has more than delivered. Brunson is the second-leading scorer in the playoffs to date, averaging 32 points against Utah entering Game 4, easing the need to bring Doncic back early from the injury he sustained during the last game of the regular season.
The Jazz, who came into the series salivating over facing a Doncic-less Mavs, looked to be mentally defeated by the conclusion of Game 3. The egregious Royce O'Neale foul on Brunson spoke volumes. The Jazz appear overmatched. Video showed obvious bickering on the Utah bench, showcasing a team that looks to be on the brink of self-implosion.
Utah has a talented roster that is struggling with the fear that their time together is nearing an end. If the Jazz suffer an opening round series loss to the Mavericks, that could be the death knell for coach Quin Snyder’s tenure in Utah while All-Stars Rudy Gobert or Donovan Mitchell ponder their futures.
At the other end of the court, the dichotomy from the Mavericks couldn’t be more obvious. Former Mavs champion Shawn Marion narrated the team message played at the American Airlines Center prior to Game 1, everyone needs to be “All In."
So far, Jason Kidd is making a believer out of his harshest skeptics, trusting his team to call plays and leading a defensive overhaul which has caused the Jazz to struggle to adjust with Dallas seemingly playing Gobert off the floor.
Maxi Kleber’s confidence at the end of the regular season was at an all-time low, to the point that he was passing up shooting opportunities. Playoff Maxi is now leading the league in points per possession, and his 3-point prowess has been back with a vengeance.
Brunson, meanwhile, is second only to Mitchell in playoff scoring average. In-season acquisitions Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans have been stalwarts in the rotation while former first-rounder Josh Green is making the most of his opportunities.
It takes a pretty special heat streak to make MFFL’s back down from thinking the sky is falling after the team’s MVP candidate became questionable to play throughout the series. However, Brunson and company have carried the load sans Luka, amassing immeasurable experience in learning to win together on the biggest stage when most were counting them out.
With their confidence through the roof, and their All-World star listed as probable to make his return, the Mavericks look to push Utah to the edge of extinction.
Do you believe the Mavericks will come away with a 3-1 series lead after Game 4? Share your predictions with Irvin on Twitter @Twittirv.