EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns-Mavericks Game 2 preview: Tightening screws, chess moves

May 3, 2022, 4:30 PM | Updated: 6:25 pm
Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks handles the ball against Jae Crowder #99 of the Phoenix Sun...
Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks handles the ball against Jae Crowder #99 of the Phoenix Suns during the second half of Game One of the Western Conference Second Round NBA Playoffs at Footprint Center on May 02, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Mavericks 121-114. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The Dallas Mavericks played Game 1 of the second round like they needed a reminder of the level of execution and talent the Phoenix Suns bring.

That first area mentioned is key, because while the Suns have a definitively better roster on paper, they also have their screws tightened better than just about any other team in the league as well.

Dallas was not ready for that and causing more stress on the Suns’ offense defensively will be required for Wednesday’s Game 2.

Phoenix’s offensive actions produced plenty of baskets off of just a simple breakdown and read, ones Devin Booker made all night with ease.

A few of these came via Deandre Ayton, and the Suns really drove home the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” by just running the same play a few times.

Ah, starting to snuff this out, have you? Here are two quick passes to the Suns’ best shooter open in the corner.

If that wasn’t there, Phoenix just kept the ball moving through the 0.5 philosophy and plays off the dribble were enough to finish out the possession.

That’s first up for the Mavericks. They entered the series already having a problem with Dorian Finney-Smith not being able to guard both Chris Paul and Booker at the same time. They do not have the size to bother Ayton, and as expected, Ayton did well defensively on the perimeter through switches.

To stay on the execution front, Dallas will be going home within a week if the majority of its offense is forcing soft switches to go matchup hunting.

The Suns do not play bad defenders and this applies both on and off the ball. If the Mavericks just have their shooters barely moving while the ball-handler dribbles the life out of the ball before attacking, Phoenix’s off-ball defenders will make the right rotations, as Suns head coach Monty Williams alluded to Tuesday.

“We don’t feel like we have any weak defenders on our team,” he said. “Teams may choose to put a certain guy in a play but we’re pretty confident not just with the guys on the ball but the defense around it is probably just as important.”

Luka Doncic’s targets were specifically Paul and Cam Johnson. Both of them did more than fine.

Johnson confirmed on Tuesday that it is something a player takes personally as a defender.

“It’s also something I’m not gonna think too much about,” Johnson said. “I’m gonna defend him just as anybody else is gonna defend him and if that’s what they want to do then let them do that. We’ll be there to defend.”

“I think that’s something that every NBA player relishes,” Williams added. “When you feel like a team is going at you like that, you want to prove ’em wrong.”

Even with the makes, notice how physical those possessions were? The Suns in ball-screen coverage, as usual, are going to invite opposing guards to take shots off the dribble from 15+ feet out. The best option (that normally is in all situations) is to drive but can Doncic take that toll over the course of a series?

He clocked in at 44 minutes on Monday and the next day at practice had a large wrap on his left thigh due to a knee from JaVale McGee that came from McGee’s steal on him in the second half.

Doncic needs help. Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie hardly impacted the game. Brunson really struggled against the Suns’ length.

The extra wrinkles from Dallas will come. It’s that time of year.

“We playing chess right now,” Suns forward Jae Crowder said Tuesday. “It’s the playoffs, man.”

There was some stuff to clean up for Phoenix. Williams had a tone after Game 1 where he rightfully thought a lot of what his team had done was “OK” overall.

He mentioned there were a couple of 3s where Phoenix’s help defenders got caught ball watching.

That is where that floor balance of being a half-to-full step out of position can burn you. Because as Williams pointed out, Doncic is that good of a passer.

“Luka’s a guy that can draw attention anyway,” Williams said Tuesday. “He’s so doggone big and his arms are longer than you realize and so even when you’re going to help, he can pass over top of the help on point, on time, right in the shot pocket.”

Crowder offered the perspective of the help defender in that position, some defensive principles the Suns did go over on Tuesday.

“You gotta know when your teammate is beat and you feel like you need to help him,” he said. “It’s a feel to the game. Coaches can’t really coach it. We can’t coach ourselves. We gotta go out there and all five guys on the court gotta be on the same page and read and react to one another.

“That’s the hardest thing about what they present with the five-wide is when to overhelp and when not. They have shooters everywhere.”

There were also the two conversions when the Mavericks got the Suns with their neat little trick of screening the closest helper, one to keep an eye on for Game 2 after Phoenix got a feel for it.

If the Suns clean a few of those up, they are looking at a manageable 3s total in the low teens for Dallas as opposed to the 16 from Monday.

And in one last random bit from the game, the Suns quietly had 13 offensive rebounds and were +15 on the glass. Phoenix started crashing more against the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round to presumably not make the Pelicans’ edge as bad as it was going to be.

Dallas’ pace is at a crawl and it does not play often in transition, so Phoenix can afford to send an extra body or two.

“It is certainly something we want to do but we don’t want to do it to our own detriment in transition,” Williams said of the offensive rebounding. “That’s the somewhat of a give and take with that kind of play. If we can, it certainly helps. We were plus on the possessions last night and that was a huge reason why.”

You’ll be surprised to hear Ayton had only three of those 13. There’s a good chance he grabs at least five in a game or two of this series.

If the Suns can continue to manufacture second-chance points as a group, that bodes extremely well for them given how well the offense functioned in Game 1 as it is.

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