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Mavericks’ belief they can eliminate Jazz without Luka Doncic bolstered by Game 2 win

Despite Luka Doncic’s injury, Jalen Brunson and Maxi Kleber led the Dallas Mavericks to a Game 2 win

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Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith, wearing white, celebrates

Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith (10) celebrates after sinking a 3-point basket against the Utah Jazz in the second half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Monday, April 18, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Tony Gutierrez, Associated Press

After the Dallas Mavericks beat the Utah Jazz on Monday night, a reporter made the observation that surely just about everyone who has been following the teams’ playoff series has thought of over the last week.

Usually the team with homecourt advantage in a playoff series considers it a negative when they split the first two games, but for the Mavericks without superstar Luka Doncic, a split in Dallas was seen as a great scenario as they try to buy time for the Slovenian to potentially return from a calf injury.

The Mavericks got that best case scenario Monday night, winning Game 2 110-104 after falling in Game 1 last Saturday.

With the series now tied, Games 3 and 4 will be played in Utah as mystery surrounds when Doncic could return.

Head coach Jason Kidd and players insist they’ve been confident in their ability to win the series regardless of Doncic’s availability to suit up at some point, and Monday’s win only served to bolster that belief.

“Big time, big time, big time,” said Maxi Kleber of the victory. “I mean, everybody came together, we fought ... the whole team came together.

“Everybody believed. One thing coach talks about is when one guy goes down like Luka, everybody else or the next guy has to step up, and that’s what we did.”

While Kleber acknowledged the magnitude of winning Monday, others took a more business-like approach to the result.

“It’s not rocket science. We want to have (Doncic) back as quickly and safely and healthy as possible, but we’re still trying to win the series, regardless,” said guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who has replaced Doncic in the starting lineup.

“There was reason for optimism, and there’s still reason for optimism.”

Jalen Brunson, Dinwiddie’s backcourt mate, went so far as to say he’s already “trying to forget” about a Game 2 in which he posted a career high 41 points.

“This was great, but long way to go,” he said. “This was a great win, something we can build off of, but we’ve got a lot of room for improvement, things that we can clean up and things that we can get better, and we’ve just got to stay the course.”

Kidd echoed Brunson’s approach, acknowledging what’s ahead.

“We did what we had to do, and that was to win tonight,” he said. “We were only focused on tonight ... now we can rest and get ready for Game 3 and understand what’s in front of us, what’s coming.”

Game 3 is set for Thursday night.