The playoffs are complicated. Each series is its own story and each game is its own chapter encompassing dozens of moments and plot points. But the playoffs can also be simple. Each of these moments, these plot points, falls into one of two buckets: the things we observe and the emotions they inspire in us. That’s what we’re here to talk about.

what we saw

Two hours after watching that game, I’m still not sure what we saw in this one. The Mavericks somehow won the most important game of the season, and it wasn’t pretty. But that lousy game was a microcosm of what is a great Mavericks season. An attacking juggernaut who struggled to react when shots didn’t land on him learned to string together win after win with hustle, defense and teamwork. A team that was so poor defensively last year that they resorted to a gimmicky zone defense with two 7-foot posts midway through the playoffs, this team held the NBA’s best regular-season offense at less than 99 points per game in this series. .

Like the games that came before it, the series finale featured plenty of tactical battles. Quin Snyder decided that if the Jazz fell, it wouldn’t be by Doncic who would dominate again, so the Jazz covered all pick-and-roll action by showing two defenders on him from the start. Jason Kidd responded by playing small and playing five-man basketball to punish the Jazz in four-on-three situations. After a rocky first half, the Mavericks found some rhythm and holes in Jazz’s rotations as they spotted the open man after the initial hedge. Dallas shot 14 of 25 from beyond the arc in the second half, and all of the Mavericks except Maxi Kleber, who looked like he had lost confidence in his shot again, made big shots in that game of the cat and mouse. Jalen Brunson scored over 20 points in his sixth straight playoff game. Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock might be the best Ironman 3 and D combo in the league. Spencer Dinwiddie was once again the X factor he has been for the majority of his tenure with the Mavericks. Beyond shot hesitation, Kleber was the last line of defense, protecting the rim on one side while stretching the ground on the other.

All this while Doncic struggled late in the fourth, playing too slow and almost letting things spiral out of control. The same group of guys that looked like a group of men a year ago couldn’t get over the hump despite their superstar going supernova and scoring 46 points in a closing game these guys won as a cohesive unit in a game where their leader looked deadly. The Mavericks had a chance in the end, but this group deserved it. Because they are a group. —Iztok Franko

What did it look like

A prize fight that went to the cards, with Dallas picking up speed in the closing rounds and doing just enough to make the decision.

All in all, it’s a triumph, and it mostly felt that way in the moment too. But it’s hard to fully lean into the satisfaction — in the realization that Dallas is in the second round of the playoffs after 11 excruciating years — in the fog of frayed nerves and flukes. Because, yes, it was a grueling basketball game, and, yes, the Mavericks were lucky come out on the winning side. For the first time in all series, they played as the bottom team – the one on their heels, looking for answers.

The Mavericks, not Utah, were the ones suffocated by a low percentage offense while getting their rim nicked defensively. Luka Doncic, a game away from Jazz’s flippant dismemberment with a third quarter for the ages, made everything look labored late in the fourth, bleeding the clock to the waning seconds and just jumping instead of forcing the problem in the painting. As for that last possession—yeesh. A break the other way – one less made it three in Dallas’ second half, a bit of a rightward drift on the wide open three and should be Bojan Bogdanovic’s winners – and that was the ‘Utah. night.

Again, the reverse was true in Games 1 and 4. The Mavericks may not have been the best team last night, but they unquestionably were over the course of the series, so karmically this works. They left meat on the bone in Phoenix, and the Suns are good enough to devour every morsel. But here and now, the Mavericks did what they planned. The goal was always to win a series, and now they’ve done it with plenty of stories to tell: about another canonical Luka moment, about the rise of Jalen Brunson, about Dorian Finney’s dynamic defensive duo- Smith and Reggie Bullock harassing everyone in their path. Whatever happens next, we will remember this series. And the further we go, the more this will be put in its true light – not how it finally ended, but whether it finally happened. On the next. —Mike Piellucci

Authors

Iztok Franko

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Iztok Franko covers the Mavericks for StrongSide. He’s an analyst who uncovers hidden stories in NBA data and basketball…

Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

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Mike Piellucci is Magazine Dsports editor of . He is a former employee of Athleticism and VICEand his freelancer…