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Unsung Heroes Key for Phoenix, Dallas

Bridges says Suns missed Mavericks' rising star Brunson in 2018 draftPhoto Retrieved via azcentral.com

The Dallas Mavericks have advanced to the second round for the first time in 11 years after their 4-2 series victory over the Utah Jazz.

Jalen Brunson played a major role in the Mavericks’ success. He averaged 28-5-4, shot 48.4% from the field and 36.4% from three, and led Dallas to a 2-1 lead in the absence of Luka Dončić who was nursing a calf strain

Ahead of their second round matchup with the top-seeded Phoenix Suns, Brunson’s offensive production will be increasingly crucial in light of another young talent. 

Mikal Bridges had a breakout season in Phoenix, posting career highs in points, rebounds and assists, along with finishing top three in defensive player of the year voting. In the first round against the New Orleans Pelicans he posted averages of 17-5-3 shooting 55.1% from the field and 53.3% from three. 

In three games against Dallas this year, Bridges averaged 13.7 points on 55.2% shooting and 38.5% from three.  In 17 minutes of defense on Brunson he allowed 11 points on 50% shooting.

Devin Booker has also returned from his calf strain injury after missing three games. With the Suns leading scorer back alongside Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton, the Mavericks cannot afford to let Bridges get going as well. 

Luka Dončić has proven to be a lethal playoff scorer, but it will take more than superstar play alone to advance. To win this series, Dallas must do two things: Limit Mikal Bridges’ scoring, and increase Brunson’s. 

The Suns went 3-1 against the Pelicans when Bridges posted more than 15 points, including a postseason career high of 31 points in Game 5 on 4/4 shooting from three. 

Dončić has noted that Bridges will likely be guarding him this series, which leaves Brunson to be guarded by Chris Paul. 

“I think it’s gonna be a big challenge for me,” said Dončić at Mavericks practice yesterday. “They have Bridges, I know he’s gonna be on me. He’s the best, or maybe top 2, guard defender  between him and Smart. His defense is amazing, really impresses me.”

Although Paul is an elite defender, Jalen Brunson will likely fare much better against him than the taller Bridges. With this in mind, Brunson must be ready to step into the role of being a leading scorer. Luka Dončić will get his points, but Dallas will have to rely on the scoring of him and others to win games. 

Game 1 of the series tips off at 9 PM C.T tonight in Phoenix at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

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