EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns-Mavericks Game 3 preview: 0.5 excellence, kitchen sinks

May 5, 2022, 8:02 PM | Updated: May 6, 2022, 10:31 am
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, right, and Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) scramble for...

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, right, and Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) scramble for a loose ball during the second half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Wednesday, May 4, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

DALLAS — Through two games, the Dallas Mavericks look like they have no answers defensively against the Phoenix Suns.

They’ve tried almost everything to stop Chris Paul. Switching, hedging, blitzing, dropping and doubling. None of it has worked, and the same goes for the effort versus Devin Booker as well.

On paper, Dallas’ biggest problem was having the type of on-ball defenders to make life difficult on that pair. Dorian Finney-Smith can be that guy and Reggie Bullock tried to be on Paul with his full-court pressure.

But the larger issue at hand is the Mavericks’ team defense. When the Suns are forcing them into rotations, they are burning them.

If you want to make Phoenix to play through the second/weak side of the floor in order to show more attention to Paul or Booker it is more than fine with that.

That’s where Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder have been excellent. It’s hard to overstate how fine-tuned their 0.5 read-and-react skills with the ball are in those positions. If the initial defensive rotation is good enough to deny the open 3-pointer, they’ll be playmakers.

The Suns’ tenacity offensively went into overdrive in the second half of Game 2, attacking Dallas All-Star Luka Doncic over and over and over again.

Wrinkled into that was Phoenix using its wings more as screeners, where the aforementioned duo plus Cam Johnson can find more space.

The Mavericks can try a few things to limit the specific hunting of Doncic, like pre-switching the actions earlier and using more zone. And in general, we are at the point in the series where Dallas needs to throw the kitchen sink at Phoenix when it comes to different and unorthodox looks.

But the Suns under Monty Williams have shown they schematically have counters for every counter.

This is where we wrap back to the Suns’ best friend, continuity. This group is now entering its sixth playoff series together in the last 11 months, so they’ve been through the whole song and dance of adjustments and adjustments to the adjustments with the same guys on the court.

“It helps a lot because it keeps us on the same page,” Johnson said Thursday when asked how much continuity helps when playing against multiple defenses in the same game. “The continuity is just a big part of the game, especially in times like this where you gotta adjust on the fly and you can’t always look back to the bench for plays and whatnot. Whether they’re in a drop or in a zone or switching everything, we’ve seen a lot of these things already.”

Williams after practice phrased it as an ability to adapt on the fly as opposed to him needing to call timeouts to run through the exact defense the Suns are trying to dissect. The coach said that having an older team helps a lot in that regard, as he’s had moments in his coaching career where younger players will come over him and ask what they are supposed to do against a specific defense.

“I don’t have time to get the crayons out right now, ya know?” he joked.

Dallas changing up its defense somewhat is a must. It’s just a matter of how extreme it gets.

Speaking of that, how wild do the Mavericks get with the desperation of staring down a potential 3-0 series deficit? Do they start Maxi Kleber in place of Dwight Powell? Ditch Powell in the rotation entirely and go super-small during the non-Kleber minutes?

There’s also two simple areas Dallas can be better, beyond the absolute must of getting Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie going.

The Mavericks trail 55-35 in assists through two games. That’s an inexcusable gap considering how their offense operates under drive-and-kick principles. Finding some offensive flow, even if it is almost all through Doncic again, would be a huge boost.

As would not starting the game off terribly. We have yet to see what the Suns’ offense looks like in this series against a set Mavericks defense off makes to open the game. Dallas having a solid couple of minutes to begin Game 3 could change the pace of the night as a whole.

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