Jalen Brunson didn’t mince words when asked to make his first NBA playoff series.
âI’m ready to go,â he said. “Nothing else to say. Let’s go. “
One of the Dallas Mavericks’ backup guards, Brunson can be excused for being on high alert regarding the NBA playoffs. After all, when the Mavs qualified for the playoffs last year for the first time since 2016, Brunson was relegated to spectator status for that entire top-seven first-round playoff streak against the Clippers. from Los Angeles.
That’s because Brunson was injured during the first possession of a contest on February 22, 2020 in Atlanta, and then underwent end-of-season surgery on March 13, 2020 to remedy a labral injury to his right shoulder. So as the Mavs lost their streak to the Clippers in six games, Brunson was simmering because he was unable to help his teammates out of a tight jam.
âWe were right there,â Brunson said. “We had our opportunities.”
This year, not only are the Mavs hoping to take advantage of their opportunities when they open the playoffs this weekend. But Brunson is happy he’s a part of the picture when the Mavs play – again – the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs.
âIt’s going to be fun,â Brunson said. âI’m really delighted to be able to be a part of it and I hope to contribute.
âI think we have a great group of guys and I think we can do something special together. We just really need to lock in. “
Brunson has certainly been locked out this season. In 57 games last year – including 16 starts – the former Villanova Wildcat superstar averaged 8.2 points, 2.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 17.9 minutes, and shot 46.6 % from the court and 35.8% from behind the 3-point line.
In 68 games this season – including 12 starts – those numbers for Brunson have improved to 12.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 25 minutes. And he shot a robust 52.3% from the ground and a healthy 40.5% from behind the 3-point arc.
As they approach their second straight playoff appearance against the Clippers, the Mavs will do so knowing they have come a long way since February 4 when they were 9-14 and 14.e place in the 15-team Western Conference after a devastating 147-116 home loss to the Golden State Warriors. As of now, Brunson takes comfort in the fact that the Mavs are one of the hottest teams in the NBA with 12 wins in their last 16 games.
âI think it’s really important for everyone to be in the right mental space and do what they’ve done to be successful,â Brunson said. âWe have to keep doing the things we have done in the past.
âWe can’t start to think of new things to do and we can’t just do the same things over and over again. We just have to continue to be who we are, stand firm and try to find ways to improve ourselves.
When the Mavs looked at each other in the mirror and wondered what was wrong until the first week of February, Brunson already knew better days were just beyond the horizon. He knew that this period was only an educational tool and an aberration that the Mavs would not see again anytime soon.
âWe knew we could bounce back,â Brunson said. “I think it sticks constantly.”
And because the Mavs are constantly glued together, they were able to end the regular season with a 42-30 record and the No.5 seed in the Western Conference after finishing last season with a 43-32 record and the No. 7 seed. With that, Brunson recognized that the Mavs were capable of overcoming more than their fair share of adversity.
âWe fought a lot,â he said. âThe (February snowstorm) storm. The Covid. Everything has been different.
âAnd we were still able to be a higher seed and we were still able to have a better percentage record starting from 9-14. So a lot of adversity, the guys stuck together, and we believe. It’s a really good feeling heading into the playoffs.
Indeed, the Mavs entered the playoffs in the bubble in Orlando last season with a 57.3% regular season winning percentage and this year that number has risen to 58.3%. Meanwhile, the series opener against the Clippers will be Brunson’s first playoff action since leading Villanova coach Jay Wright – he was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday – to their second NCAA title in three years in 2018.
âI was able to learn a lot from Coach Wright,â said Brunson. âI learned a lot from my teammates (Villanova) and the leaders I had when I was a freshman, and I got to lead a lot of young guys when I was a junior.
“So this three year race that we had was quite special and something that I will never forget, and it really helped me become the player that I am today.”
Brunson is now hoping that this next playoff series for the Mavs will also be quite special on top of something he will never forget.