EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Phoenix Suns ruthlessly attack Luka Doncic, blow Mavericks out in 4th
May 4, 2022, 11:47 PM | Updated: May 5, 2022, 8:18 am
PHOENIX — If you weren’t sure why it’s such a big deal that 1) Devin Booker is a good defender and 2) the Phoenix Suns don’t have any negative defenders on the team, Wednesday’s 129-109 Game 2 win over the Dallas Mavericks showed you.
The Suns exited an odd first half down two and mercilessly hunted Dallas star Luka Doncic on the majority of their offensive possessions in the second half. The Mavericks’ willingness to switch allowed the Suns to manipulate screening actions into Doncic either guarding the ball-handler, screener or next-closest player he’d be forced to recover to.
It was a bloodbath.
This is bananas.
The Suns went after Luka 50 times as the screen defender FIFTY and scored a casual 1.72 points per chance.
— Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob) May 5, 2022
Forward Jae Crowder revealed a few weeks ago the term the Suns use is “pigeon,” the opposing defensive player that isn’t up to par and can be exposed.
Doncic was the pigeon nearly every second he was out there for the last two quarters. The guy is not a terrible defender, but given how he runs Dallas’ offense almost entirely on his own, he didn’t have his legs under him.
In relation to the Suns’ All-Star backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker, head coach Monty Williams has said in the past that the Suns have data that shows how much players wear down when they reach a certain amount of dribbles per game.
Given Doncic’s workload in the first game, with a lot of his 45 points coming on physical drives to the basket, the Suns took their patented wear-down effect to unforeseen heights from an individual perspective.
“He played like 44 minutes in Game 1. We talked about that,” Crowder said of Doncic. “If you gonna be out there that long, we obviously feel like we gotta make him work even more.”
From Crowder blowing by Doncic’s closeouts to the 36-year-old Paul dribbling right around him, it was nonstop and unlike anything I’ve ever seen in that fashion.
The Suns are RELENTLESSLY hunting Luka pic.twitter.com/WS9ZQQXYG3
— Half Court Hoops (@HalfCourtHoops) May 5, 2022
The twist here is that this is the Mavericks’ forte. They play at a slow pace and seek out certain mismatches by forcing switches to get into isolation play.
The Suns beat them at their own game.
“We feel like we have guys that can put them in certain positions but within what we do,” Williams said. “We don’t want to just pull a guy into a pick-and-roll just to go iso with 18 seconds on the clock. We want to make teams work and over the course of the game we feel like that serves us well.”
“It’s very important,” Booker added when asked about making Doncic work defensively. “I think they’re trying to go at matchups they like and we’re doing the same thing on the other end. Tough matchup to guard but he’s gonna have to guard a bit.”
It got so bad in the fourth quarter that Dallas head coach Jason Kidd essentially waved the white flag by changing to a zone defense.
On the other end, the Suns abandoned the soft switches they were giving the Mavericks and had forward Mikal Bridges fighting through screens to stay on Doncic while also deploying an occasional trap.
Altogether, Doncic attempted only three shots in the third quarter and scored two points with one assist and three turnovers. He usually plays the entire third quarter but got a rest with 1:47 left in the period.
“There was a point in the third where we had like six consecutive iso stops and that gave us a lot of energy,” Williams said. “We kinda drew the line in the sand as far as guarding 1-on-1.”
Dallas in the first half had Doncic knocking down his jumpers, shot 10-for-20 from 3 and forced the Suns’ only player in double figures to be Jae Crowder (15 points). Despite that, it was only up two.
At that point, the aforementioned relentless effort on Doncic was a dementor-esque soul-sucking shift of momentum for Phoenix and it bombarded Dallas in the second half 71-49 and shot a blistering 70.7% from the field.
“Obviously, we felt like we had a bad second quarter,” Crowder said. “They did a lot of good things with turning us over, getting stops and making shots. They made a lot of shots. We just kept preaching that we’ve been here before, we weathered the storm, got to halftime, reset a little bit, talked it out and came out and executed quarters three and four.”
The momentum of that was already in effect during the third quarter but the Mavericks put in an excellent effort to only be trailing by six.
But on top of everything the Suns had going for them, Paul really found his scoring rhythm in the third quarter and proceeded to have his latest fourth-quarter takeover by scoring or assisting Phoenix’s first 19 points in less than five minutes.
“What’s amazing is it feels like for the first two quarters he’s like relaxed, he’s chilling, he’s not too aggressive, he’s just reading the game and then he just has a switch where he turns it on,” Crowder said of Paul.
It’s safe to say Paul enjoyed going at Doncic after the Slovenian guard was having his own go at Paul through the first six quarters of the series.
Dallas’ defense was simply out of answers after a much-improved performance in the first half compared to Game 1 and what it got in return was a 15-point deficit after the Point God spurt.
Phoenix kept setting its home crowd off. Booker re-entered the game with 6:06 left, and after Paul finally missed, Booker drilled a trio of 3s on three straight possessions.
“Yeah I liked the fourth quarter today,” Booker said of the crowd at Footprint Center. “Definitely got louder than say the previous game. They’re bringing it, man. The energy’s in the house, the energy’s around the city. I think everybody is on this revenge tour with us and it’s fun to be a part of it.”
Booker had an important dozen points in the third quarter, and so those second halves for Booker and Paul added up to them scoring 41 of their combined 58 points and shooting 16-of-21 (76.2%).
The Suns showed a lot of composure through a first half that saw 30 whistles blown for fouls in 24 minutes. Those types of calls persisted in the third quarter, putting several key players in foul trouble like Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee and Dallas’ Dorian Finney-Smith and Dwight Powell.
That shifted both teams’ rotations in awkward places, and as expected, the Suns came out better from it.
Bismack Biyombo was tremendous during the second-half flurry, logging 18 minutes for the game and contributing nine points and three rebounds.
Doncic ended up at 35 points, five rebounds, seven assists and seven turnovers on 13-of-22 shooting. Williams when asked about Doncic’s performance in Game 1 mentioned Dallas only having 16 assists, and that number was just 19 on Wednesday.
Reggie Bullock’s 16 points took the role of Maxi Kleber from Game 1 as the shooter and only other Mavericks player to have a decent offensive game. Spencer Dinwiddie had 11 points as the only other Maverick in double figures but shot 3-of-10 and guard Jalen Brunson (3-for-12) once again struggled.
Crowder was outstanding for the second straight game. He was the Sun initially defended by Doncic, so that put Crowder in a lot more actions than usual in the third quarter and he kept making plays.
Phoenix will be thrilled with this type of win when Ayton got stuck in foul trouble and was ineffective. He clocked in at only 18 minutes, nine points and three rebounds.
Dallas tried a few more double teams, and that forced Bridges to be a playmaker on the weak side, where he dished out six assists to go along with 11 points on six shots.