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Utah Jazz facing franchise-defining moment after Jalen Brunson torches them in Game 2

Vincent Frank
NBA: Utah Jazz at Houston Rockets
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks needed guard Jalen Brunson to step up in Game 2 of their first-round NBA Playoff series against the Utah Jazz Monday evening.

Dallas continues to be without star guard Luka Doncic, who suffered a calf injury in the Mavericks’ regular season finale. It was down 1-0 in the series after a hard-fought Game 1 home loss to Utah over the weekend.

That’s when Brunson decided to pick up the slack big time. The impending free agent dropped a career-high 41 points on 15-of-25 shooting, including a 6-of-10 mark from three-point range in a 110-104 win.

As for the Utah Jazz, the combination of All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert continued to struggle jelling. Mitchell hit on just 13-of-30 shots after connecting on 10 of his 29 shots in Game 1.

On the other hand, Gobert went for a mere eight points on five shots. Remember, the multi-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year attempted all of one shot in Game 1.

Related: 2022 NBA Playoff and championship predictions

Utah Jazz Game 2 struggles magnify longstanding issues

utah jazz struggles, rudy gobert and donovan mitchell
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Dating back to March of 2020, there’s been a perceived rift between Mitchell and Gobert. That started when Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 and gave it to his teammate — leading to the 2019-20 NBA season being suspended.

It’s continued into the 2021-22 campaign.

“Gobert and Mitchell have been at each other’s… I don’t know if I can say at each other’s throats. It’s back to being passively aggressively awkward. It’s the most underplayed story in the league, I think

The Jazz are struggling a lot. This team had big expectations and they’re getting passed by frankly. They are not on the level they were a year ago. Donovan and Gobert, even though they’re both under long-term contract, are under each other’s skin. There’s all kind of subtweeting and passive aggressive stuff going on.”

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst on Utah Jazz drama (February 4, 2022)

That’s the major backdrop here. However, there’s an on-court component to this. In a Western Conference ripe with teams boasting multiple star players, the Jazz lag a step behind.

For as good of a defender as Gobert is, he obviously leaves a lot to be desired on the offensive end of the court. Seeing the combination of Gobert and Mitchell score one more point than Brunson himself in Game 2 adds another element to this.

The Phoenix Suns have Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The Memphis Grizzlies boast Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. The Golden State Warriors have a killer three-guard lineup in Stephen Cury, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole. The Minnesota Timberwolves boast stud youngster Anthony Edwards and a top-10 NBA MVP candidate in Karl-Anthony Towns. Need we continue?

In short, the Jazz’ All-Star duo is nowhere near as dynamic as the teams we listed above. It’s led to renewed speculation that Utah might break up the pairing by trading Gobert this summer.

One loss in the NBA Playoffs will not lead to general manager Justin Zanik making a decision of this ilk. Rather, it’s Utah’s struggles in the second half of the regular season coupled with losing to a Luka Doncic-less Mavericks team in a game that could have seen the Jazz take a stranglehold on the series.

Game 3 of this first-round playoff series slated for Thursday evening in Salt Lake City will act as a franchise-defining moment for the Utah Jazz. It’s that simple.