EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns-Mavericks Game 6 preview: A stage for stars or more of the same?

May 11, 2022, 7:08 PM | Updated: May 12, 2022, 2:35 pm
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns passes the ball around Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks ...
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns passes the ball around Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks during the first half of Game Five of the Western Conference Second Round NBA Playoffs at Footprint Center on May 10, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

DALLAS — There’s nothing like a potential closeout game with star power and we will be treated to that on Thursday evening in Dallas for the Phoenix Suns’ Game 6 against the Mavericks with a 3-2 series lead.

In the two situations last year the Suns went up 3-2 and went on the road with a chance to close out a series, Devin Booker dropped 47 points versus the Los Angeles Lakers and Chris Paul advanced the Suns past the Los Angeles Clippers to the NBA Finals with 31 of his 41 points in the second half. This year, Paul was 14-for-14 from the field in New Orleans.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic is 0-2 when facing elimination but is averaging 42.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 12.5 assists per game across those two contests on 55.2% shooting.

For a series that has mostly been swung by which team’s depth steps up, Thursday might just come down to those three excellent basketball players.

But let’s assume the supporting casts will continue to have a large impact.

The dramatic difference between the two groups in wins and losses persisted in Tuesday’s Game 5. Phoenix got great minutes from the likes of Deandre Ayton, Bismack Biyombo, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Cam Johnson and Landry Shamet. Dallas, meanwhile, had 21 points on 9-for-17 shooting from Jalen Brunson, and, erm, 10 points via Davis Bertans?

In Games 3 and 4, Mavericks wing duo Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith went a combined 18-of-38 from 3-point range but posted a 2-of-8 mark as a duo on Tuesday.

The Suns fixed whatever the heck they were trying and failing at from Game 4 with helping too much off shooters, and instead, forced Dallas’ ball-handlers to beat them 1-on-1.

The most important addition to that equation was the best on-ball defense the Suns have played in this series.

When the Suns got off the ball a bit and switched through rotations, they were crisp and back to what we’ve come to expect.

Watch the closeouts from Bridges, Crowder and Paul here on the perimeter in recovery once Doncic’s gravity sucks everyone in.

Just wonderful stuff.

In two different examples here, the first shows how the Suns were helping on Doncic and others, just late in the possession once a potential shot was going up.

As our Australian correspondent David notes, the second is tremendous work by Booker to stick through the handoff and then Paul’s closeout is aces.

 

This helped the Suns tremendously in two keys to keep an eye on for Game 6.

Phoenix generated 24 points off the Mavs’ 18 turnovers after it had a combined 24 points off turnovers in Games 3 and 4. Secondly, the Suns held Dallas to only two second-chance points after they allowed at least 15+ in the last three games.

If we see anywhere close to this level of defense in Dallas on Thursday, start making plans for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals in Phoenix.

Shamet was right in there with that defensive intensity. As Williams said after Game 5, he’s an underrated defender.

Williams made a bold decision to not only sit backup point guard Cam Payne but play Shamet in a role where he’s bringing the ball up a fair bit, something Shamet rarely if ever did in the regular season.

Now, I can hear a few of you rolling your eyes already at the notion of benching Payne as “bold.” But here’s the thing. As I’ve said numerous times in this space the last calendar year, the Suns do not make the Finals last year without Payne’s strong play. He’s a change-of-pace sparkplug for this group and getting back there again would be a whole lot easier with him returning to form.

But what if Shamet can actually play this role?

It never came close to coming to fruition in the regular season but I wrote about Shamet’s untapped potential in the NBA as a point guard and how Williams’ familiarity could help the Suns unlock that.

“Well, I can’t say there was much comfort,” Williams joked after practice on Wednesday when asked about how comfortable he was with playing Shamet in that role. “It’s a playoff game. A bit of a risk, but in my opinion, you have to take come calculated risks at times to do what we want to do. The defensive side of the ball was what I saw from him. His ability to stay in front of the ball and be disciplined and not foul.

“And then we know he can make shots. He played the point guard position a little bit in college and I had him in Philly and knew that about him so I knew he could handle the ball and facilitate if we needed him to.”

This is the guy we thought we’d be seeing!

Shamet’s contributions on Tuesday were ginormous and it came with the sharpshooter going 1-of-3 from deep. He’s solid enough to not require big shooting nights in order to be a big-time plus on the court.

The Suns getting that in the rotation at the backup guard spot was a huge deal and Shamet will need to remain consistent for Phoenix to get what it needs out of that spot.

Empire of the Suns

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton, left, reacts with head coach Monty Williams during the first hal...
Kevin Zimmerman

Report: Suns’ finale could echo Deandre Ayton-Monty Williams dynamic

As Deandre Ayton prepares to receive free agency interest, the rumor mill might tell us if Phoenix wants to match an offer.
23 hours ago
Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones speaks to the media regarding the firing of Suns head coac...
Kevin Zimmerman

Phoenix Suns salary cap Q&A for the 2022 offseason

Here's a quick Q&A covering how the Phoenix Suns might navigate this offseason from a financial perspective.
2 days ago
Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder, center, pass the ball to teammate JaVale McGee (00) as he drives ...
Kevin Zimmerman

Suns’ offseason questions: How Phoenix can remake role player ecology

The Suns could be faced with trading veterans and retooling their bench to save money and better complement Devin Booker and company.
5 days ago
Cameron Johnson #23 of the Phoenix Suns walks to the locker room at halftime of Game Seven of the W...
Kellan Olson

Suns’ offseason questions: Cam Johnson has earned expensive extension

Phoenix Suns forward Cam Johnson has developed into a great well-rounded player and he deserves a hefty pay day.
6 days ago
Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball during the first half of Game Seven of the Weste...
Kellan Olson

Suns’ offseason questions: How much should Phoenix rely on Chris Paul?

Chris Paul's injury history in the playoffs means the Phoenix Suns have to rethink the way they are shaping their roster going forward.
6 days ago
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns reacts during the first half of Game One of the Western Confere...
Kevin Zimmerman

Offering Devin Booker supermax contract extension is no-brainer for Suns

Here's one move that should not take more than a second's worth of brain energy: Extending Devin Booker to a supermax contract.
7 days ago
Suns-Mavericks Game 6 preview: A stage for stars or more of the same?