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3 things after Dallas Mavericks drop Game 1 to a red-hot Phoenix Suns, 121-114

The Suns were just too good

Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns - Game One Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks fell on the road to the Phoenix Suns Monday night, losing Game 1 of the Western Conference semi-finals, 121-114. DeAndre Ayton paced a balanced Suns attack with 25. Luka Doncic scored 45 in defeat for the Mavericks.

We’re not in Utah anymore.

Phoenix came out in Game 1 looking like a team intent on repeating as the Western Conference’s representative in the NBA Finals. While Dallas fans were getting hyped about another big night from Maxi Kleber, who started a perfect 3-for-3 from three, Phoenix fans were getting hyped about big nights from, well, just about everybody.

Luka Doncic led all scorers with 45 points while early foul trouble and Stretch-Armstong defenders on Phoenix held Brunson to just 6-for-16 on the night for only 13 points. It was, in fact, a Big Night for Maxi Kleber, though, who was Dallas’ second-leading scorer with 19 points on 5-for-8 shooting from deep.

Phoenix, on the other hand, was finding buckets of buckets from just about everyone. Deandre Ayton led the way with 25 points, but the Suns shot 50% from the floor as a team, and six Suns players were in double digits.

As the fourth quarter rolled around, a very scary fall for Maxi Kleber when his legs were knocked out from under him on a dunk, and a hobbling Luka Doncic gave the impression that just getting out of the game with enough players for the Game 2 rotation should be considered a moral victory in its own right.

No defense for an offense that good

The NBA, by and large, has become a league defined by the phrase “good defense, better offense.” That idiom was in full display tonight in Phoenix — the first half in particular. Where Dallas could previously play competent defense and count on Utah to simply miss an occasional shot, the Suns offered no such reprieve.

In the first half, the Suns were appropriately on fire, shooting 63.6/50/100. On any other night, Dallas’ 42/43/85 first-half splits would be lookin’ pretty solid, but not tonight. Ayton’s efficient night in particular might be reason to worry. Chris Paul and Co. aren’t going to be liquid magma hot every night (...right?), so there’s some defensive mean reversion Dallas can count on there, but they have much fewer answers for how to solve a problem like Ayton down low.

Some help from his friends

Luka’s huge 45-12-8 night in a loss, will no doubt have some Mavs fans thinking disdainfully about playoffs past when Doncic seemed to be the only consistent bright spot in back-to-back first round losses.

Here, in this second round series, we know that’s not true. We’ve seen Jalen Brunson, Spencer Dinwiddie, Maxi Kleber, and Dorian Finney-Smith have big games. That help —outside of a hot night from Kleber (who, seriously, I hope is okay because that fall was gnarly and I don’t know how he stayed in the game after it) — just never materialized in Game 1.

Brunson’s early foul trouble likely contributed to his touch and go night, and general messiness from the team from the jump (three turnovers in the first four possessions) got iron out as the team settled in. The hope has to be that, on a night when Phoenix isn’t so unimpeachable on offense, these guys can do what we’ve seen them do and provide the lift needed to steal a game on the road.

Onward and upward

The Suns are an absurd 50-0 when leading after three. That did not change tonight. Unsurprising as Phoenix never trailed all night (a tantalizing four-point deficit in the middle of the second was as close as Dallas got). However, Dallas did win the fourth quarter by 10 points, 35-25. A shame the Suns we leading by 17, sure, but something for Dallas to point to in upcoming film sessions.

No doubt Phoenix let off the gas a little; Dallas might’ve even put a little scare into them as the lead shrunk to six with 53 seconds to play. If nothing else, hopefully, Dallas saw that, when they can keep the Suns shooting something approaching a normal number, they’re mortal. After an unspeakably hot night on offense, Dallas held Phoenix to 7-for-25 in the fourth quarter, including just 1-of-8 from three. Dallas’ 58 second-half points actually eclipse Phoenix’s 52, so hopefully any new-series jitters are out of their system after this game one, and the Mavs can come out for Game 2 strong so they’re not fighting out of a hole all game.

Here’s our latest episode of Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you’re unable to see the embed below, click here to be taken to the podcast directly. Or go to your favorite podcast app and search Mavs Moneyball Podcast.