No one can blame Jason Kidd or the rest of the Dallas Mavericks for what happened during Saturday’s Game 1 against the Utah Jazz.

There was no Luka Doncic, Dallas’ effervescent star, whose play covers a multitude of the team’s sins. Rudy Gobert controlled the glass with 17 rebounds, and Kidd didn’t have the bigs to give Utah’s center a different look. And in the third quarter, Dallas had no counter to Donovan Mithcell’s 19 points in the frame — he ended the game with 32.

Still, Dallas had a shot at winning the game. And for a moment, it did look like Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie, who combined for 46 points, were going to be enough. But one clutch three by Royce O’Neale, with 57 seconds left, extended the lead out to four points. Utah held on. And on its homecourt, without its star player and everyone on its roster exhausted from a strenuous 48-minute effort, Dallas lost Game 1, 99-93.

“Overall, we gave ourselves a chance to win without Luka,” Kidd said. “We just have to do a better job.. The guys fought.”

How Dallas stayed in the game

They fought because they had to. No Doncic was coming to the rescue. All he could offer was limp-filled celebrations and momentous claps from the bench.

In his place, Brunson gave Dallas 24 points. Albeit, he was widely inefficient, shooting 37 percent from the floor. Dinwiddie also tried his hand at a Doncic impression, scoring 22 points. But he barely reached 40 percent shooting from the field.

Between the two guards, who dominated the ball, Dorian Finney-Smith chipped in with his usual complementary play of corner threes and transition scores, with those efforts tallying up to 14 points and five rebounds. It wasn’t nearly enough. Without Doncic, it couldn’t be.

“We gave ourselves a chance to win,” Dinwiddie said. “There is a lot of room for optimism.”

There has to be optimism, because without it, what would Dallas have?

Optimism exists for Doncic’s calf. It also exists for Game 2. It also existed before and during Game 1 — when the effort was there, but the talent wasn’t.

Optimism helps dictate effort. It doesn’t produce results. Doncic does that. And if he can’t play in Game 2, Kidd’s hands are tied.

He gave more minutes to Davis Bertans than he should have. And as a result, Mitchell hunted the slow-footed 3-point specialist without mercy.

Kidd tried a lineup with Josh Green. However, Green’s erratic shooting quickly landed him a seat next to the coaches.

Finally, Kidd landed on closing the game with Maxi Kleber. And for a second, it looked genius. The German big man hit a 3-pointer, cutting the lead to one with two minutes left. On the following possession, Kleber shot another corner 3-pointer that would have given Dallas the lead. He missed, short. Reminiscent of nearly every other shot he took during the game (2-7).

Heading into Game 2 

Game 1 got away from Dallas. Can anyone blame them? For three quarters, the Mavericks dictated the pace of play. They forced Mitchell to play the game they wanted to. But oftentimes, playoff games are decided during the moments when things don’t go as planned.

And the game was decided in the third quarter when Bertans couldn’t stay in front of anyone, and Kidd was out of options. At that moment, he looked to the bench and saw Doncic in street clothes. And though the team may say they believe they still have a shot to win the series, if Doncic’s health status doesn’t change, all the team will have is optimism.

Can you blame them?

“We got to do a better job at making the easy shots,” Brunson said. “We have to follow our game plan and stick together… Our defense gives us a chance.”

Related Dallas Mavericks reading 

“Two ways Dallas competes without Luka Doncic.” 
“Luka Doncic continues his dominance in ESPN rankings.”

Feature image via Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports.