EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns overwhelmed by Mavericks’ spirit, drop Game 3

May 6, 2022, 11:04 PM | Updated: 11:10 pm

DALLAS — There are some efforts that can catch a team off-guard. The Dallas Mavericks’ desperation in Game 3 down 2-0 in a series against the Phoenix Suns was expected, and yet, it had the Suns on their back foot all evening as if it did actually catch them off-guard in a 103-94 loss on Friday.

“Honestly, I just felt like they wanted it a little tad bit more than us tonight,” Suns forward Jae Crowder said of the Mavericks. “They played harder, they played more aggressive. I don’t want to say that was what we expected, but at the same time, they got pride. They at home playing for their season so they played harder than us tonight and came out with a win.”

Dallas was able to locate some form of defensive pressure, denying more driving lanes and not allowing as many clear openings. That threw off Phoenix’s backcourt to the tune of 12 points, four assists and seven turnovers for Chris Paul and 18 points, six assists and five turnovers for Devin Booker.

“It wasn’t like us,” Booker said of the loss. “You can credit them. They came out, played hard, played desperate. But that’s that. We got a series.”

It is bizarre for either of those guys to get up there in turnovers, but even stranger was they had a combined 22 shot attempts, especially in a game the Suns had to chase all night.

“It’s just turnovers,” head coach Monty Williams said of those low shot attempts. “You give them 17. And those two, they never have those high turnover games like that. We’d love for those guys to get more attempts, especially with the minute total they had. It’s something else I have to look at the film and see.”

Paul had six of those turnovers by the mid-second quarter. The recently turned 37-year-old on Friday is so far ahead of the game that when he makes those mistakes, they look like the simplest turnover anyone could commit.

“Felt like all seven of them was back-to-back-to-back too,” he said. “Couple more back-to-backs right there too.”

Booker is a player so consistently in a rhythm that it’s telling when he can’t quite get his pulse to equal the pace of the game. Even when he scored in Game 3, it was a lot of difficult shots with plenty of traffic, not in the usual flow he finds those in.

You don’t need two hands to count the number of times those two have both not played well in a game for the Suns this season, and as expected, it cratered the Suns’ offense.

“Just felt like they brought a great deal of effort along with them coming up with those tip-outs or 50/50 balls. … When you see us at 94 points and 23 assists, that’s just not a typical game for us but they brought it from the jump,” Williams said of Dallas. “You felt the physicality.”

The Suns’ historic offensive efficiency through eight playoff games had a crash landing of a regression to the mean. A 32.3% shooting efficiency on 31 midrange attempts, an area Phoenix sat at 52.5% in those eight games, drastically affected their final field goal percentage of 44.7%, per Cleaning the Glass.

Phoenix also missed a handful of bunnies, which honestly matched the number of mental lapses we saw from the group on both ends. Williams said there were a few times his guys didn’t see the open teammate on the back side, the type of breakdown the Suns normally capitalize on at will.

Dallas deserves a ton of credit for creating an environment to make all that happen. The Mavericks finally looked like the very good defensive team they were in the regular season and outworked nearly every member of the Suns to win the battle for second-chance points 16-10 while only committing eight turnovers to Phoenix’s 17 and producing 22 points off those turnovers.

“I think we lost that game tonight,” Crowder said of the 50/50 balls. “That’s part of those guys wanting it more. They played more desperate. They played harder. That’s what it comes down to.”

That led to the Mavericks taking 14 more shots than the Suns, a deficit that makes comebacks immensely more difficult.

“It’s tough because you’re putting them out there in transition,” Paul said of the Suns playing off their back feet because of the turnovers. “With a team like that, you start letting other guys get going. You see Jalen (Brunson) had a big game, 28 (points). I think if we take care of the ball, we get more shots at the basket. That’s on me. We ain’t but get up 76 shots and they got 90. That’s a huge difference. We’ll be better on Sunday.”

And Phoenix was in pursuit of that comeback from the jump.

Dallas led by nine in a first quarter that included a 19-3 spurt and still managed a seven-point edge at halftime despite a poor second quarter in which it could have been up 20-plus given the Suns’ ineptitude.

The Mavericks regrouped at halftime and played much better the following two quarters. They immediately fired off an 11-2 run in the opening 2:48 of the second half to get to a 16-point advantage, a much more plausible one.

From there, Phoenix’s offense found some pockets of the game to make up some ground but just couldn’t be consistent enough with it or generate enough stops to get close.

“I didn’t feel like we had a rhythm tonight on offense, to be straight with you, at all,” Williams said. “We saw flashes of it but we just didn’t have the same kind of offensive connection that we had in Phoenix.”

The separation didn’t get down to single digits until there was 4:11 left, and the Suns couldn’t do that previously during two different stretches where Mavericks star Luka Doncic had to sit due to foul trouble.

“We came out in the second half [and cut it to seven] and then bam, bam, bam it was back in the teens,” Williams said. “And then we cut it again and then we give up a 3 or a 50/50 ball for a 3. We just couldn’t put it together tonight.”

Doncic played his third straight excellent offensive game, contributing 26 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and two steals. More importantly, he was in the trenches on the 50/50 balls just as much as his teammates.

The difference was his backcourt mate Brunson snapping back into his great play this year after two bad games in Phoenix. He scored the aforementioned game-high 28 points on 10-of-21 shooting.

Crowder was the lone Sun to play well. He racked up 19 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals.

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