Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd says he was “like the refs” in that he missed a perceived cheap shot that star guard Jalen Brunson took from Utah’s Royce O’Neale in the second quarter of Game 3 on Thursday night at sold-out Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City.

Brunson and a lot of his teammates sure didn’t. And they took their anger out on the Jazz and then some, making more big plays down the stretch after a spirited Jazz rally cut a 17-point lead to one to take a 126-118 victory.

Playing without star point guard Luka Doncic for the third straight playoff game, Dallas took a 2-1 series lead and most likely will get the Slovenian back for Game 4 on Saturday afternoon. Not that it should matter. The Mavericks are playing just fine without him, thank you very much.

Brunson returned from the blow uncalled, and uncalled for from O’Neale, to lead the Mavericks with 31 points on 12 of 22 shooting. In the last two games, the former Villanova star has scored 72 points and committed just one turnover, filling in spectacularly in Doncic’s absence.

“Um, I think Royce (O’Neale) just elbowed me in the back, and that’s that.” — Mavericks star Jalen Brunson on a shot to the lower back that caused him to leave the game in the second quarter. He returned in the second half.

After the game, Dallas’ first win in Salt Lake City since 2016, snapping an 11-game SLC losing skid, Kidd, Brunson and several teammates were asked about the play that sent Brunson to the locker room with what he later said was a “painful” lower back.

Brunson’s take: “Um, I think Royce just elbowed me in the back, and that’s that.”

Asked if that’s why he picked up a technical foul protesting the non-call, Brunson paused for a second, got a pensive look on his face and said, “I said what I had to say. It is over with.”

This series pitting the No. 4 seed Mavericks and No. 5 seed Jazz could be close to over with, too, if the Jazz play as poorly as they did on defense the past two games. They might be without O’Neale, the hero in Game 1 for nailing a 3-pointer in the final minute in Dallas.

For his part, Kidd refused to comment on the play, saying he had heard about it later but, “I was like the refs, I missed it.”

He added: “I don’t have to comment on it. The league will take care of it.”

Bottom line, Brunson said, was the Mavericks exorcised some demons in SLC, quieted a crowd that was relatively quiet in the first half but grew to full throat in the fourth quarter when Mike Conley hit a 3-pointer to cut the big deficit to 103-102 with 6:41 remaining, and proved once again that they can win without Doncic.

“Everything feels good with a win. Everything,” Brunson said when he was asked if he was feeling any lingering effects from the O’Neale shot, which looked more like a hip and/or shoulder check to the back than an elbow.

Brunson said there was never a doubt that he would return.

“Um, I think most importantly I saw how hard my teammates were playing when I was laying back there (in the locker room),” Brunson said. “They were just playing really hard, withstanding their run and doing what they were doing. It just gave me a little mojo to come back out there.”

Punishing Utah’s pathetic perimeter and on-ball defense with slashing drives to the hoop, Brunson and teammate Spencer Dinwiddie took over in the fourth when the game was on the line, getting the last laugh.

“I knew I was coming back out there (at halftime), but man, I am proud of this team. I am proud of the fight that we have, but we gotta keep going,” Brunson said. “They are a team that is not going to quit. We have to stick together for however long it is going to take. They are a good team. They are going to keep fighting.”

Dallas dominated the Jazz at their own game in the first half, making 13 of 25 3-point attempts.

That’s more than the Jazz even attempted, as they were 3 of 9 on 3s. Dallas finished 18 of 42 from beyond the arc, as Reggie Bullock made three, Dorian Finney-Smith had two, Dinwiddie had two, Monday night hero Maxi Kleber had four, Josh Green had three and Davis Bertans added three. 

Brunson was 0 for 4 from deep, but 7 of 7 from the free-throw line.

He said Dallas’ refusal to fold when the Jazz roared back in the fourth can be attributed to the Mavericks poise and experience.

“Maybe not playoff experience, but just experience in general. We have a group that’s been together for a while now,” he said. “… Credit to my teammates. They do a lot. I wouldn’t be able to do anything without them. … My success is coming off them, and I thank them.”

After the Jazz scored 40 points in the third quarter, including 18 by Mitchell, “there was no panic” in Dallas’ huddle, Kidd said.

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“They truly believe,” he said. “They talk about defense, and we got stops when we had to. That third quarter, we came out and it would have been easy for us to give up the lead, and say hey, ‘we gotta come back Saturday.’ But those guys fought and truly believed and put themselves into position to win.”

When the game was on the line, Dinwiddie blew by Mitchell twice for layups — he might have gotten away with a push-off on the second drive — and then Brunson took over, scoring six straight points. The dagger came when Finney-Smith hit an open 3-pointer from (where else?) the corner.

Suddenly, when it appeared the Jazz crowd was going to blow the roof off Vivint Arena only moments early, a hush fell over the place. Looks of disbelief were common, and folks hit the exits in droves.

“It is a really tough gym to play in,” Kleber said. “… But we didn’t back down. We knew they would make runs. We kept our cool and just played the way we have to play.”

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