The Utah Jazz bounced back from two straight defeats to take down the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday in Game 4 of their first-round series, 100-99. Big man Rudy Gobert played hero on the offensive end for once with a huge dunk to put the Jazz in front in the closing seconds, and they secured the win when Spencer Dinwiddie's potential game-winner at the buzzer came up short.
After getting torched over and over by simple drives to the basket in Game 3, the Jazz were determined not to let that happen again. They came out with a much higher level of effort on the defensive end, and held the Mavericks to just 42.9 percent shooting. Save for a hot shooting stretch of the third quarter, the Mavericks struggled to get into a rhythm offensively. That was despite the return of Luka Doncic, who went for 30 points and 10 rebounds in his first action in the series.
Jordan Clarkson led the way for the Jazz with 25 points off the bench in his best performance of the series. Donovan Mitchell had a rough shooting night at 7-of-21 from the field, but converted a huge and-one in the final minute and finished with 23 points. Gobert, meanwhile, went for 17 points and 15 rebounds, as he caused havoc on the offensive glass and got to the line for 18 free throw attempts.
The series is now all tied at 2-2 and will head back to Dallas for a pivotal Game 5 on Monday night.
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Here are three key takeaways from the game:
1. Gobert plays hero
The playoffs have not been a fun time for Rudy Gobert over the last few years, as he's often taken a major share of the blame for Utah's collapses. That's perhaps a bit unfair, but the way teams scheme against him at times is easy for everyone to see and poke fun at.
He made sure there would be no slander on Saturday. With the Jazz trailing by one in the closing seconds, he came down and set a screen for Donovan Mitchell, then rolled the rim unchecked. Mitchell found him -- a rare occurrence this season -- and Gobert threw down the huge alley-oop that turned out to be the game-winner.
That was obviously the most notable moment, but Gobert was terrific throughout the game. He finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds, and though he missed a number of free throws along the way, he earned those trips to the line by causing havoc on the offensive glass. He grabbed 10 offensive boards, more than the entire Mavericks team, and played a key role in the Jazz winning the second-chance points battle 22-12. On a night where they shot just 40.5 percent from the field, Gobert kept them in the game with his work on the glass.
2. Jazz improve on the defensive end
The Jazz lost Game 3 because they were not good enough on the defensive end. It was simply embarrassing how easy it was for Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie to ghost past their perimeter defenders to get into the lane for easy baskets or kick-outs. Everyone knew they had to be better in Game 4 if they wanted to win.
To their credit, they were. It wasn't always perfect, but the effort was there, and that's all you can ask. Nothing summed it up better than this possession late in the third quarter. Just look at the multiple rotations and how they never quit on the play. Clarkson, in particular, deserves a lot of credit here for getting up and sprinting all the way across the court to close out to Dinwiddie.
It's worth noting that the above possession came after the Mavericks shot the lights out in the third quarter and retook the lead. The Jazz could have easily packed it in at that point, but they kept fighting. Sure, that's kind of a basic expectation in the playoffs, but when a team hasn't responded well to adversity in recent weeks it's a positive sign.
All told, the Jazz held the Mavericks to 42.9 percent shooting, which was their least efficient outing since Game 1. Utah is going to need to maintain that effort in Game 5 if they want to take the series lead.
3. Doncic shows out in return
One of the biggest storylines, not just in this series but in the entire playoffs, was Luka Doncic's calf strain. The All-Star guard got hurt in the final game of the regular season and was not able to play in the first three games of the series. It was just a matter of time until he returned, though, and he did so on Saturday in Game 4.
He got involved immediately, throwing a lob to Dwight Powell for the first basket of the game, before scoring one of his own a short time later. All told, he finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds and four assists on 11-of-21 from the field in 34 minutes -- more than he may have been expected to play given the circumstances. He almost had the biggest shot of the night as well: a step-back 3 over Gobert with 39.6 seconds remaining to put the Mavericks up by four.
Overall it was an impressive performance, especially considering he hadn't suited up in two weeks, and the Mavericks are glad to have him back. At the same time, his presence created some interesting dynamics. To some extent, the Jazz's perimeter defenders seemed a bit more comfortable with his slow, probing style than Brunson and Dinwiddie's quick drives in a five-out system. In addition, the Jazz were able to target him at times on the defensive end, where he wasn't moving well.
Again, the Mavericks are obviously better off with Doncic back on the court. It was still interesting, though, how his return changed how both teams played.