What the Mavericks managed to do Monday night was nothing short of incredible. Battling back in the 4th quarter in a pivotal game to avoid going down 0-2 at home minus Luka Doncic was a true testament to this team’s mental toughness. The Mavericks taking 1 out of 2 without Luka wasn’t the part that shocked most people; it was how the team did it. Most people expected that there would be unexpected contributions from players for the Mavs to win, but 41 from Jalen Brunson and a staggering 25 from Maxi Kleber were something few fans expected. But this victory wasn’t a miracle, and the Jazz have fundamental issues that the Mavs need to keep taking advantage of this series.
The Mavericks exposed Utah’s most significant flaw in game 2. Utah is awful defensively on the perimeter, and it’s hidden because they have the NBA’s best rim protector in Rudy Gobert. Ironically enough, I’ve seen people attach a lot of the defensive blame on Gobert, which comes as an absurd and uninformed take on what happened. First, I want to say Gobert does not have the assignment to stick with Maxi Kleber at the 3-point line. The biggest reason for that is the Jazz perimeter defenders got beat every time 1v1, so Rudy is forced to stay in the paint to help avoid easy layups, thus leaving Maxi open. And no matter what you think, NBA teams will let a 33% 3-point shooter in Maxi Kleber beat them instead of a driver getting easy buckets in the paint.
I don’t see the Jazz improving on this end any time soon, and I think if Maxi keeps hitting 3s, the Jazz will lose this series, especially if Luka comes back. Luka coming back would also help expose another glaring issue the Jazz have, their pick and roll defense. No fault of Gobert; the Jazz have been shredded by Luka and Dwight Powell in the PNR mainly due to their piss poor perimeter defense. Royce O’neal is the only serviceable defender out there, and he’s a forward who struggles to fight through screens because of his size. I don’t think people understand how many holes Gobert covers on this Jazz defense, and it’s unjust he gets a lot of the blame for it.
The Jazz are doomed even looking further than this series. If they end up prevailing vs. the Mavs, they will likely see the Phoenix Suns in round 2, and I can confidently say I don’t see them winning more than a game. The same thing will happen as what happened in game two vs. the Mavs, and Rudy Gobert will receive an unfair share of the blame. Like last year’s series vs. the Clippers, the scapegoat for Utah is the three-time DPOY that leads the NBA in rebounding and is scoring 16 PPG on less than eight shots a game.
When the Jazz reach their eventual demise in this playoffs, whether to the Mavericks or Suns, they will be heading to an inevitable breakup between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. When this happens, the market for Gobert is going to be rich, but the Mavericks need to be all in on Gobert. The makeup and playstyle of this Mavs team fit Gobert like a glove. With him added, the Mavs’ defense will go from 6th in the NBA to first because he will not be asked to make up for four other guys’ defensive mistakes. Gobert is also arguably the NBA’s best roller, and you best believe Luka would take advantage of that. I’ve seen Luka turn Dwight Powell into Prime Dwight Howard as a lob man; I can only imagine what he would do for Gobert.
Gobert is the most disrespected all-star in the NBA, and I think being put on a team where he isn’t going to be the scapegoat would finally help him get the respect he deserves. The Mavs aren’t a team that historically attracts free agents, so going all-in on a trade for Gobert is their best shot at completing a championship-level roster.