Jalen Brunson leading Mavs, Wolves meltdown

·13 min read



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Thursday night basically matched Wednesday’s NBA Playoff madness and there are a ton of things I hope to say. Let’s see if I can read my own handwriting well enough to pull it off. Follow me on Twitter!

Grizzlies 104, Timberwolves 95 – Grizzlies lead 2-1

The Wolves opened up with a 39-21 lead after the first quarter and Karl-Anthony Towns was active and involved, appearing to be on his way to a big night. However, the Grizzlies overcame a 26-point deficit, both a playoff and regular-season franchise record, and ran away at the end for the nine-point win. Ja Morant had the first ever Memphis postseason triple-double with 16 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, a steal, three blocks and a 3-pointer, but also had seven turnovers and hit just 5-of-18 shots and 5-of-10 free throws. They got the W, so who cares about the bad stuff? The Wolves put on a defensive clinic, fueled by Patrick Beverley, in the first quarter and for much of the game, and then the Grizzlies put on their own defensive clinic in the fourth quarter, winning it 37-12. The Grizzlies went on a 21-0 run between the end of the third quarter and much of the fourth quarter, and the geniuses on the Minnesota bench never even called a timeout. Charles Barkley summed it up best on Inside on TNT. “The Timberwolves are dumb, coaches are dumb,” he said. “All that talent and they’re dumber than rocks. I can’t stand stupidity on the basketball court. This is embarrassing for basketball.” Why Chris Finch didn’t call a timeout at some point during the 21-0 run is beyond me, but it basically sums up the history of the Wolves’ franchise.

The Grizzlies hit seven shots in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter before the Wolves ever hit one. Desmond Bane led the way with 26 points, six rebounds, two assists, a steal, two blocks, a franchise playoff-record seven 3-pointers and one turnover in 40 minutes, and Brandon Clarke hit 6-of-9 shots and 8-of-8 free throws for 20 points, eight rebounds and a block in the win. He also had 16 points in the second half, which was a key to the win. The Grizzlies decided to park Steven Adams, who had been dominated by Karl-Anthony Towns in Game 1 and played just three minutes in Game 2, on the bench, starting Kyle Anderson instead. Adams didn’t even get into the game while Anderson had four points, three rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block. Dillon Brooks had a rough night on 4-of-14 shooting but still had 11 points, four rebounds, two assists, a steal and a 3-pointer. Tyus Jones came through with 11 points, five boards, four assists, a steal and three 3-pointers in just 14 points off the bench, but this game was all about the fourth quarter when Morant, Bane and Clarke took over. Jaren Jackson Jr. was in foul trouble with five and spent much of the fourth quarter on the bench, along with KAT for the Wolves. JJJ hit just 2-of-6 shots and a 3-pointer for six points, seven rebounds, two steals, two blocks and five fouls. Decent fantasy numbers, but not ideal in real life.

The Wolves couldn’t do anything wrong in the first and third quarters, but their fourth-quarter meltdown (37-12) was epic. Karl-Anthony Towns hit 3-of-4 shots for eight points, five rebounds and five blocks, but almost all of his offense came in the first quarter. And the four shots KAT took in one of the biggest games in Wolves history? A career low, for the postseason, as well as his NBA career. He also had five fouls and was on the bench for much of the fourth quarter, when the Grizzlies were running all over them. D’Angelo Russell hit 9-of-21 shots and four 3-pointers for 22 points, five rebounds, eight assists and a steal, Anthony Edwards hit 6-of-13 shots, four 3-pointers and 3-of-6 free throws for 19 points, seven rebounds, two assists and a steal, and Patrick Beverley, who was an absolute defensive beast in the first quarter (and for much of the game) had 14 points, two rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks on 5-of-13 shooting in 34 minutes. Jarred Vanderbilt, who has been completely unreliable, came through with 10 points, 13 rebounds and three steals on 2-of-8 shooting in 32 minutes, and was helped by KAT’s ineffectiveness. I don’t really know what to say here. The Wolves had this game in the bag. Like, it was over. I changed venues, which took all of 15 minutes, and by the time I got there they went from up 20-something to down two. Unreal. KAT says he’s going to go home, decompress and drink some wine. The Wolves have to find a way to duplicate last night’s early defensive intensity and the team is going to have to take the ball to the rack and stop launching endless 3-pointers if they’re going to bounce back from this. KAT is either going to be a monster in Saturday’s Game 4 (at Minnesota) or he’s going to disappear again. I’m leaning toward ‘monster,’ but I don’t really trust him, either. What a win for the Grizzlies.

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Mavericks 126, Jazz 118 – Mavs lead 2-1

No Luka, no problem. The Mavs got a huge win to take a 2-1 lead in the series and regain homecourt advantage. Had the Mavs lost this game my guess is that they’d play Luka Doncic in Game 4 on Saturday. But after last night’s win, you have to think they think they can win this series without Luka. And Luka’s injury is not a simple sprained ankle. It’s a delicate calf injury and coming back too soon could lead to even bigger problems. If I’m the Mavs I’m declaring Luka as available for Saturday, and then leaving him on the bench unless things become desperate. Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie are playing like All-Stars and are doing more than their part to pick up the slack for Luka. Both Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber had five fouls early in the fourth quarter, so the Mavs went super-small and relied on Brunson and Dinwiddie down the stretch. And they came through, scoring 18 of Dallas’ 29 points in the fourth quarter, putting the game away. The Mavs were up 15 in the middle of the third quarter, but the Jazz went on a run and cut it to one point in the fourth quarter. But then the Mavs got it going again, led by Brunson, Dinwiddie and a Dorian Finney-Smith 3-pointer to put the game away late. DFS ended up with 14 points, eight rebounds, four steals and two 3-pointers for a great (and underrated) night.

Brunson led the way with 31 points, five assists and one turnover, hitting 12-of-22 shots and 7-of-7 free throws in 35 minutes. He suffered a back injury in the first half and it didn’t look great when he headed to the locker room, but he was back out there for the second half and looked all-world. Brunson has now scored 72 points with one turnover in his last two games and has scored 96 points with three turnovers in the series. And he only scored 30 one time in the regular season but has done it in his last two playoff games. The Mavericks have until the end of June to sign him to an extension, or he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1. And if I’m Mark Cuban, I’m opening up the checkbook and doing whatever it takes to sign him to a long-term deal. The Knicks have their eye on him and would love to steal him away to become their point guard, but Brunson’s play has put him completely in the spotlight and he’s about to get paid in a big way. He might just be the most underrated player in the entire league.

And then there’s Spencer Dinwiddie. Dude hit just 6-of-21 shots and 2-of-7 3-pointers, but also hit 6-of-7 free throws, had the dunk of the night and finished with 20 points, five rebounds, six assists, three steals and two turnovers before fouling out. He hit dagger threes and has basically done more than any of us thought he was capable of in Dallas, outside of his mama. When the Mavs traded Kristaps Porzingis for him, I thought they were crazy, and I’ve never been so wrong. He was underappreciated in Washington (to put it mildly) and is now a folk hero in Dallas. What a stud.

And then there’s Maxi Kleber. Kleber did it again, hitting 6-of-7 shots and four 3-pointers for 17 points, three rebounds and two assists. Kleber’s averaging 21 points, 4.5 rebounds and 6.0 3-pointers over his last two games and 17.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.7 3-pointers in the series and has become a playoff beast off the bench for the Mavs. In fact, the Mavs’ bench got four 3-pointers from Kleber and Davis Bertans last night, along with three of them from Josh Green (12 points, six assists, two steals), which was a key to them winning Game 3. Additionally, the Mavs hadn’t won in Utah since 2016, so they also got that monkey off their back.

For the Jazz, Donovan Mitchell led the way with 32 points, six assists, a block and a 3-pointer, Bojan Bogdanovic added 24 points and six rebounds and four 3-pointers on 8-of-12 shooting, Rudy Gobert hit 6-of-6 shots for 15 points, seven boards and a block, and Mike Conley bounced back and came through with 21 points, two rebounds, six assists, two steals, a block and two 3-pointers on 6-of-14 shooting. Jordan Clarkson added 14 points and a 3-pointer off the bench and there weren’t many interesting story lines here. Yes, I’m a Mavs fan and just spent a ton of words on them and basically ignored the Jazz, and I’ll own it. The Jazz need to figure out how to stop Brunson, Dinwiddie and Kleber and if Luka comes back for Game 4 things are really going to get dicey. But at this point, I’d plan on resting Luka if I’m the Mavs.

Warriors 118, Nuggets 113 – Warriors lead 3-0

Draymond Green, in my opinion, made the play of the game when he stole the ball from Nikola Jokic with 37 seconds remaining in a five-point game with five fouls in his pocket. It was a precise swiping and allowed him to join the likes of LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd and Larry Bird to have 200 steals and 10 triple-doubles in the postseason. As my dad would say, that company is “neat.” This game was back and forth for the entire second half, but a Stephen Curry driving layup put the Dubs up 116-111 with 44 seconds left on the clock and he rested his head on his hands, effectively saying “night night” to the Denver crowd. For the weird stat of this game, the league’s two best free throw shooters, Curry and Jordan Poole, hit just 12-of-17 of them. And again, who cares?

Poole, who started, and Curry, who came off the bench, both scored 27 points and Klay Thompson, who hit 10-of-17 shots and a team-high six 3-pointers, had 26 as the Warriors took a 3-0 lead. Poole was awesome, hitting 9-of-13 shots and three 3-pointers for 27 points, three rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block and has scored 30, 29 and 27 in his three career playoffs games. He’s scored 86 points with eight turnovers over his last three games but is shooting 67 percent from the field, 59 percent from the 3-point land and 81 percent from the line in the playoffs. The Warriors closed this game on a 9-2 run and Poole had a big part in that. In a Twitter poll I posted last night as to who you’d want on your team right now, Poole has 56.3 percent of the vote against 24.2 percent for Brunson and 19.5 percent for Tyrese Maxey. Interesting. The entire world, especially Oakland and San Francisco, is having a Poole Party right now!

Curry hit 9-of-17 shots and three 3-pointers off the bench for 27 points, three rebounds and six assists and seems to be buying into this bench role. We’ll see how long it lasts once they dispose of the Nuggets, which is only a matter of time. Gary Payton II had 11 points in 14 minutes and Andrew Wiggins had nine points, two 3-pointers, six rebounds, one assist and one steal in the win, while the rest of the Warriors box score is a bit of a wasteland. Well, except for Draymond’s six points, five rebounds, 10 assists, two steals, a block and a 3-pointer on 2-of-6 shooting. The guy’s a Warriors’ monster and fills an incredible role there as the leader of the team, despite the presence of Curry. @ChrisChiozza1 on Twitter said: “The Warriors are like a Lambo! Dray is the engine, Steph’s the transmission, Klay and Poole are the twin turbos.” Nice one.

The Nuggets may have the best player in the league in Nikola Jokic but he, along with his teammates, is currently on the phone with a travel agent making plans for Cancun. Jokic went off for 37 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two 3-pointers on 14-of-22 shooting – and it wasn’t enough. Aaron Gordon added 18 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, a block and a 3-pointer and hit six straight shots at one point, Will Barton hit 5-of-13 shots and three triples for 13 points, four rebounds, five assists and a steal, and Monte Morris added 10 points, six assists, two steals and a 3-pointer on 4-of-11 shooting in the loss. The Nuggets got 10 minutes from DeMarcus Cousins for nine points and three rebounds on 3-of-4 shooting, but this team just has no answer for the Dubs, despite having Jokic. And he’s going to be thinking about that hard over the summer. There’s nothing worse than watching a stallion waste away on a bad team. Just ask Mike Trout.

Ben Simmons update

Ben Simmons is targeting Monday's Game for his season debut and I, for one, could not be more excited. I can't think of a worse omen for the Nets, who I picked to win it all, but how badly can he really screw things up? I'm guessing 15 minutes of shenanigans and that's about it. The Nets are in an 0-2 hole against a really good team and I don't think that now is the time to roll Ben out there, but to each his own. They're either going to win or lose. But it will be entertaining either way.

Enjoy the weekend and all the zaniness that’s sure to follow in the NBA Playoffs!