Mavs escape Utah as Luka advances for 1st time

Mavs escape Utah as Luka advances for 1st time

SALT LAKE CITY — From Luka Doncic’s point of view, Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic’s shot at the buzzer felt like it hung in the air for 15 seconds.

The Dallas Mavericks led by two points with 4.3 seconds remaining in Thursday’s Game 6. Jazz coach Quin Snyder, with his team’s season at stake, called timeout and drew up a play to get his team’s best shooter a potential game-winning look from the left wing. Bogdanovic caught the pass, pump-faked to get Dallas guard Spencer Dinwiddie to fly by him and was wide open when he let the shot go.

“Oh, man, I thought, ‘He don’t miss a lot of those,'” Doncic said. “My heart stopped.”

But Bogdanovic’s shot bounced harmlessly off the iron, and for the first time in his career, Doncic celebrated advancing to the second round of the NBA playoffs.

“Happiness, man,” Doncic said after the Mavs’ 98-96 closeout victory. “I think we worked really hard to get here. I think we deserve to get past the first round. Everybody fought their ass off today. We didn’t play good today, but everybody was staying together. Keeping everybody together was the key to win this game.”

The Mavericks rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit to clinch Dallas’ first postseason series win since the 2011 NBA Finals. Dallas advances to face the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the second round.

“We’re going to have to play our best basketball to beat them,” Doncic said.

Doncic had 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists to put the finishing touches on the victorious series at Vivint Arena, which coincidentally was the site of Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki’s first postseason closeout 21 years ago. Doncic, who missed the first three games of the series due to a strained left calf, logged 42 minutes in the finale and played the entire second half.

“To win his first series, it’s not easy,” said first-year Mavs coach Jason Kidd, the point guard of that 2011 title team. “So hopefully that monkey is off his back.”

Utah’s halftime lead held up for only nine minutes, 32 seconds as the Mavs lit up the scoreboard in painfully familiar fashion for the Jazz. The Mavs went to a small lineup, as they have with success throughout the series, and got rolling by creating clean looks from 3-point range, just as the LA Clippers did while storming back from a 25-point deficit and eliminating the Jazz in the Game 6 of last season’s Western Conference semifinals.

The Mavs made as many 3-pointers in the second half — 14, the most in a playoff half in franchise history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research — as the Jazz had total field goals.

“We were able to get in the paint, trust each other and make stuff happen,” Mavs guard Jalen Brunson said after scoring 24 points to cap a breakout series.

Brunson averaged 27.8 points per game in the series and committed only four turnovers in the six games. According to ESPN Stats & Information, it’s the highest scoring average in a playoff series by a player who committed five or fewer turnovers, surpassing Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird’s 27.2 points per game in the 1986 Eastern Conference semifinals.

Dallas dominated the third quarter, outscoring the Jazz 36-19. The Mavs went 8-of-12 from 3-point range in the quarter, when Doncic had 10 points, including a pair of step-back 3s. Doncic had one assist in the frame, but several Dallas baskets were the result of beautiful ball movement after Doncic decisively passed out of traps and double-teams.

“I like sharing the ball,” Doncic said. “If they’re going to [double-team], somebody is going to be open. We’ve been playing against blitzes or hits the whole season, and I think we did great. Then it’s just basketball, four-on-three.”

Ten of the Mavs’ 13 buckets in the quarter were assisted, including nine that led to uncontested shots, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Mavs made more 3s in the quarter than the Jazz had total field goals (6-of-17).

The Jazz have participated in six straight playoffs, the longest active streak in the Western Conference, but failed to advance to the conference finals during that span. A first-round exit represented “a lot of disappointment,” as All-Star center Rudy Gobert said for a franchise that could undergo major offseason changes.

“I’m a competitor, and I feel like if you give us another crack at it, we can go get it,” said Jazz star guard Donovan Mitchell, who had 23 points, eight rebounds and nine assists in the elimination loss. “But in the same token, there’s things that could change. I’m not ready to discuss that, to be honest with you right now. I’m not. Mentally, I’m just not in that headspace, to be completely honest with you. I’m really not. To me, it sucks, yo. If you ask me that in a week, maybe, but right now I’m not in a headspace to answer that for you.”

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