As great of a basketball player as Luka Doncic is, he still needs help around him for the Dallas Mavericks to win big. After two straight years of playoff disappointments, it appears that a handful of their key role players – specifically, Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber – have finally turned the corner and are having somewhat of a redemption tour this year.
When Doncic missed the first three games of the first-round series against the Utah Jazz, many talking heads counted Dallas out. However, by the time Doncic returned from his calf strain for Game 4, the Mavs already possessed a 2-1 series lead and ultimately finished off the Jazz in six games.
In that first-round series, Brunson elevated his play to star level, averaging 27.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists while shooting 48.4 percent from the floor, including 36.4 percent from deep. That included a Game 2 eruption where he went for 41 points on 15-25 shooting.
After starting off shaky in the first two games of the second round against the league-leading Phoenix Suns, Brunson settled in for Games 3 and 4, scoring 28 and 18 points, respectively, in the Mavs' two consecutive wins. Although his shooting percentages are well below what he'd like (39.4 percent overall and 25 percent from deep), his aggressiveness is allowing him to be effective against the Suns' length, which is something that lacked last season when the Mavs lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in a seven-game first-round series.
Finney-Smith and Kleber, two players who were inconsistent over the last two postseasons, have also been vital in the Mavs being two wins away from a Western Conference finals birth.
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Finney-Smith is averaging 13.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.2 steals this postseason. He's shooting 46.5 percent overall, 43.1 percent from deep, and is coming off a career-high performance on Sunday afternoon against the Suns in Game 4 where he drained 8-12 3-pointers en route to 24 points. Finney-Smith has put in work on both ends of the court, and he's making the Mavs look very smart for signing him to that four-year, $55 million extension during the season.
With all due respect to Kleber, he wouldn't have been able to hit water if he fell out of a boat in the last couple of months of the regular season. After he came up short in big postseason moments over the last two years – mainly because he was having to guard a healthy Kawhi Leonard every game – people wondered if Kleber would have any chance of becoming the player he was before his massive slump.
To Kleber's credit, he's been a godsend this postseason, averaging 11.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting an outstanding 57.4 percent overall and 49 percent from 3-point range. Kleber has managed to keep up that production over 10 playoff games while still being a force on the defensive end. Being able to create better floor spacing on offense and switch onto perimeter players on defense has been a luxury for Dallas.
Other role players have stepped up for the Mavs during this playoff run, including Reggie Bullock and Davis Bertans, but it just feels a little more special seeing the aforementioned three guys figuring it all out, given their previous postseason shortcomings.
"Amazing man, this team is amazing," Doncic said in his postgame interview with ESPN after Dallas' big Game 4 win. "Everybody can play. Everybody who gets on the court leaves everything out there, and this team is special. If we play hard and get stops, we're a dangerous team."
If Doncic's teammates continue to play with the intensity and efficiency that we've seen so far, there's a very real chance that the Mavs could find themselves in the Western Conference finals, if not the NBA Finals ... and that's a crazy statement to make based on where this team was in late December.