Jalen Brunson wasn’t a first-round pick. He has never made an All-Star team. He has never made all-league team.
Yet, Brunson scored 41 points to lead the Mavericks to a 110-104 win over the Jazz in Game 2 of their first-round series Monday.
Brunson is just the third player lacking any of those accolades (first-round pick, All-Star, all-league) to score more than 40 points in a playoff game. Flynn Robinson did it for the 1968 Bulls, and Slick Leonard did it for the 1957 Minneapolis Lakers. But that was so long ago, Robinson being the No. 15 pick and Leonard being the No. 10 pick meant they were second-rounders.
The No. 33 pick in 2018, Brunson delivered his breakout game at just the right time.
With Luka Doncic still sidelined by a calf injury, Dallas salvaged a split at home to open the series. There’s now far more pressure on Utah, which hosts Game 3 Thursday. The longer this series goes, the more likely Doncic returns.
And Brunson showed his ability to put a team on his back ahead of his upcoming free agency. He has already earned a big raise from the relatively cheap four-year contract he signed as a second-rounder. But a career night on this stage, especially after looking fairly pedestrian in last year’s playoffs, only boosts his stock.
Brunson was just in complete control. The point guard scored from all three levels, dribbling expertly and pulling up with deft touch on his shots. Dallas committed just two turnovers in his 42 minutes, none by him. With only one turnover while Brunson sat, Dallas tied an NBA playoff-game record with just three turnovers.
The Mavericks mostly went to a five-out offense with Maxi Kleber (25 points on 8-of-11 3-point shooting) replacing starting center Dwight Powell. That stretched Rudy Gobert too thin. Though he frequently got caught in the paint while Dallas rained 3s (22-for-47 [47%]), the primary problem was Utah’s perimeter players allowing easy penetration. Gobert rotating to protect the rim usually stopped one leak but left another beyond the arc.
Donovan Mitchell (34 points on 30 shots), Bojan Bogdanovic (25 points on 15 shots) and Jordan Clarkson (21 points on 11 shots) had big scoring nights for the Jazz. But without better defense, Utah is susceptible to losing in the first round to a team missing its lone superstar.
As good as Brunson is, he’s no Doncic. Which, in a way, made Brunson’s performance tonight even more special.