Jason Kidd snaps Mavs’ long playoff drought

SALT LAKE CITY — Black shirts were draped on every seat in Vivint Arena As Utah Jazz fans dressed for their team’s funeral in Game 6 of the Western Conference first-round series. The Dallas Mavericks took care of business and closed out the series, winning on the road, 98-96.

The Mavericks struggled to get anything going on offense in the first half, connecting on just 3-of-18 shots from deep and the Jazz had a comfortable 12-point lead at halftime. Dallas came out in the second half with a small-ball lineup, opening up the spacing on the court and shot lights out, draining eight 3-pointers in the third quarter and finished with 17 3-pointers for the night.

“In the first half, we were walking the ball up, we weren’t the aggressors and we weren’t hitting first. That’s what they were doing,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “They were desperate and hungry, and they were attacking us off the dribble. At halftime, we talked about how we needed to be more aggressive and our guys went out there and did the work. During that third quarter, we caught fire.”

Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic got a great 3-point look with four seconds left in the game, but it hit off the back rim, ending Utah’s season.

“He doesn’t miss a lot of those,” Luka Doncic said after the game. “My heart stopped. Man, it felt like that shot was in the air for 15 seconds. I was just hoping he missed it.”

The Mavs advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2011, after being eliminated in the opening round in six tries. The last time Dallas made a playoff run, the Mavericks won the 2010-11 championship and Kidd was the starting point guard. Eleven years ago to the day, the Mavericks won the first-round playoff series against Portland to set up their title run.

“Thanks for making me feel old,” Kidd said, while laughing. “That was a long time ago. I just remember a lot of people didn’t think we were going to get out of the first round, and it’s kind of similar to this situation. This is a special group. They find a way to win and they have fun doing it, and hopefully, this gives us confidence going into Phoenix.”

This is Kidd’s first year as the Mavs head coach and team owner Mark Cuban likes the experience he brings to this young team.

“Obviously, it’s different being in the playoffs as a player versus being a coach,” Cuban told Yahoo Sports. “As a player, you have your roles, and J. Kidd, with just the experience he had, was to go out there and support Dirk [Nowitzki] and have all our guys back then do their jobs. Now as a coach, it’s a yearlong process. You don’t just, all the sudden, come playoffs just turn it on. You have to start developing players’ mindsets and attitudes, getting to learn the system and have them know their roles and be excited about it and work together to get better. Jason’s done a great job at that with this group.”

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic shoots over Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley during Game 6 of their Western Conference first-round series at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on April 28, 2022. The Mavs won and eliminated the Jazz from the NBA playoffs. (Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Both Doncic and Jalen Brunson finished with 24 points, and Doncic added nine rebounds and eight assists. After playing only 33 minutes in both Game 4 and 5, coming off a calf injury, Doncic played the entire second half in the comeback win, logging 42 minutes.

“I’m tired,” Doncic said with a smile. “But we got the win so I’m happy. Everybody fought their asses off today. Everyone was playing together and keeping everyone together was the key to winning this game.”

The Jazz entered Game 6 a little battered with unusual injuries. Rudy Gobert suffered a bee sting on his face, and Donovan Mitchell was playing with bilateral quadriceps bruises in both legs, which he sustained in Game 5.

Both players fought hard with Mitchell leading the team with 23 points, nine assists and eight rebounds and Gobert finished with a double-double (10 points, 12 rebounds). This might have been the final game at Vivint Arena for the pair with whispers of big changes coming to the organization in the offseason.

As for the Mavs, they are already en route to Phoenix and will face the No. 1-seeded Suns on Monday.

“We’re going to have to play our best basketball to beat them,” Doncic said. “They were in the Finals last year, the No. 1 team this year so we’re just going to go in there and compete and play the way we know how to play. We’re not done yet.”

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