NBA Film Room: How Brunson, Mavericks Are Ripping Apart Jazz

Dallas Mavericks, NBA Film Room
NBA Analysis Network

The Utah Jazz have fallen into a 2-1 hole, despite facing a Dallas Mavericks squad that has been without their superstar, Luka Doncic. While Utah was technically the underdog heading into this NBA playoff series, fans and pundits expected them to take command of this series, at least throughout Doncic’s absence as he nurses a left calf strain.

Now, Utah might be in bigger trouble as Luka gets ever-closer to his inevitable return.

Even without Doncic though, the Dallas Mavericks have been able to generate plenty of offense behind the inspired play of Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie. The Mavericks’ remaining guard have been able to drive right into the heart of the Jazz defense with ease.

In this play, it was Donovan Mitchell who failed to impede Brunson en route to the rack, but throughout the series, all of Utah’s perimeter defenders have been escorting the Mavericks slashers straight to the basket for easy points.

LATEST NBA NEWS & PLAYOFFS COVERAGE: Luka Doncic To Return Game 4 Of Mavericks-Jazz Series

The Utah Jazz have the benefit of Rudy Gobert’s presence in the paint to cover for a lot of mistakes, but Head Coach Jason Kidd and Dallas have found a simple solution to neutralize Gobert’s rim protection by going small and playing five shooters at once.

Here, Dallas runs a simple dribble hand-off into a screen action to get Mitchell switched onto Dorian Finney-Smith. DFS quickly attacks and beats Mitchell with his first step, forcing Rudy Gobert to help off Maxi Kleber. Finney-Smith finds Kleber open behind the arc for a triple.

This has been a recurring theme throughout the series. First, a Mavericks slasher beats a Jazz perimeter defender. Then, one of Utah’s big men has to help on the drive. Lastly, one of Dallas’ shooters is found wide-open behind the arc.

As a result, Maxi Kleber has averaged 17.3 points on over four 3-pointers made per game thus far in the series. Between him and Davis Bertans, the Dallas Mavericks have plenty of shooting to make Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside pay for digging into the paint.

The Jazz can try to go zone to counter, leaving Gobert or Whiteside in the paint at all times. But with Dallas’s ability to put five shooters around the arc, the Mavs should be able to find the open man with enough smart ball movement.

Utah seems to only have two options left. They can try to stay home and hope that their perimeter defenders can start staying in front of their men. With Jalen Brunson’s transcendence into an elite offensive option, though, it’s hard to see this strategy working out in the Jazz’s favor.

Brunson’s development into an elite offensive threat was an underrated storyline this past season. In one season, he’s turned himself from a solid, reliable backup point guard into one of the most coveted floor generals in the league. He’s not as flashy or incendiary as other All-Star level lead guards, but what Brunson lacks in style, he makes up for with substance.

He’s a three-level scorer who can get a good look for himself or his teammates from any spot on the court. He’s almost always making the right play and was one of the most efficient pick-and-roll ballhandlers in the league this year.

Whether it’s pulling up from deep, getting into a mid-range jumper, or using his lower body strength to bully his way to the rim, he has a full arsenal of ways to punish the Jazz defense. Leaving any of their perimeter defenders on an island against Jalen Brunson is just as doomed an option as leaving Kleber and Bertans open from deep, if not worse.

LATEST NBA NEWS & PLAYOFFS COVERAGE: Luka Doncic To Return Game 4 Of Mavericks-Jazz Series

If it’s not Brunson cooking the Utah Jazz defenders, then it’s Spencer Dinwiddie. Since arriving in Dallas, Dinwiddie has regained his groove and effectiveness as a scoring guard. He’s also regularly punished the Jazz defense with his size, ballhandling, and shot making.

Utah just doesn’t have the personnel to ensure that they’ll have an adequate stopper in front of both of those guards at all times. Gobert is doing all he can to try to slow down the Mavs, but Dallas’s shooting has essentially negated his defensive impact. He’s not skilled enough on offense to punish their downsizing which has made him a net negative so far in the series.

That leaves only one option for the Jazz. At this point, Utah’s best path forward might be to go small and try to outgun Dallas in a shootout. They found a level of success doing so late in Game 3.

Swapping out Gobert for Rudy Gay or Eric Paschall allows the Utah Jazz to match Dallas’s speed and shooting. The sacrifice in defense can’t be understated, but with Dallas’s shooting, Utah might be better off getting beat for easy twos rather than giving up open threes. This way, at least the Jazz have a chance of matching the Dallas Mavericks’ offensive output.

Relying on their defense to stop Jalen Brunson and company is a lost cause and will only become direr when Luka Doncic returns.