The Dallas Mavericks got pummeled by the Phoenix Suns Wednesday night, losing Game 2 on the road 129-109. Chris Paul put on an amazing performance, pouring in 28 points, grabbing six rebounds, and dishing eight assists. Luka Doncic led Dallas with 35 in defeat.
The game opened exactly like Game 1, with Mavericks looking somewhat shell-shocked and the Suns jumping out to a quick 9-0 lead. Luka Doncic singlehandedly kept Dallas in the game, along with some solid shooting from Reggie Bullock, but the Suns punished the Mavericks on both ends. Both Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith got into early foul trouble, with the latter picking up three in just nine minutes. Somehow, the Mavericks found themselves down just four points, trailing 32-28 to the Suns after one quarter.
With Doncic on the bench, Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans helped Dallas take the first lead of the series at 41-38 at the eight minute mark. The quarter was mired with foul calls, most of which were somehow on the offensive end. Jae Crowder stayed on fire to keep the Suns within striking distance, hitting a three and free throws. Doncic closed the quarter with three huge threes, but Chris Paul and the Suns answered every time. Dallas entered the half up 60-58.
Devin Booker went to work early in the second half, firing away from three and long twos, hitting everything to retake the lead for the Suns. The game dove into the mud for a while, with foul after foul called on seemingly every possession, including a flagrant one on DeAndre Ayton on a fast break as he caught Dwight Powell with an elbow to the face. With Dallas down eight, a streak of threes from Reggie Bullock pulled the Mavericks right back in it, tying it at 78. The Mavericks lost their focus a bit down the stretch and some lapses resulted in them trailing 89-83 after three quarters.
Things fell apart in the fourth quarter for Dallas, with Chris Paul taking over on both ends of the floor. Doncic got targeted repeatedly by Paul. The Suns flat out ran Dallas off the floor, going on a 23-2 run after Doncic hit a three pointer to make it 99-93. Three after three from a full variety of Suns to put the game well out of reach. Dallas got blown off the floor 129-109 and head home for Game 3 Friday night down 2-0.
Luka Doncic is learning a different playoff lesson
The Los Angeles Clippers had two of the best defenders on the planet and a host of bodies to throw at Luka Doncic in the previous two playoff runs. We’ll never know what could’ve happened in the first series with a healthy Kristaps Porzingis and in the second series, the hot shooting went cold and the former coaching staff overcorrected, then Kawhi Leonard played one of the best basketball games I’ve ever seen in Game 6.
This series, really this entire playoffs, something different is happening. Luka Doncic is getting targeted on defense over and over. Against the Jazz, he held up, against the Suns, he’s having a much harder time. By the fourth quarter, he looked absolutely exhausted and he only played 30 minutes to that point. While he does have to continue to improve on defense, he really needs to continue to improve his cardio shape. It’s a small but significant thing that will pay off, because if he wants to play in a ball dominant way, he can’t afford to get tired.
Questioning some key coaching decisions
The Mavericks have been outscored 18-to-4 in the opening three minutes of Game 1 and Game 2. Those points can largely be laid at the feet of center Dwight Powell, who plays hard but simply isn’t a physical match up for this entire series. He gets picked on by guards on switches and out muscled by all Phoenix players. He started both the first quarter and the third quarter when the Mavericks got absolutely blasted. I’m not sure how much more the coaching staff needs to see to keep trying the same thing that isn’t working.
Additionally, it’s worth asking why Dorian Finney-Smith was playing in the first quarter with two fouls. His first was a cheap off ball whistle that shouldn’t have been called, the second came on fouling a three point shooter. The third happened in a loose ball situation with three or so minutes left in the quarter and he shouldn’t have been in. The Mavericks mitigated the downhill effects with solid play from Davis Bertans and others but there was no reason to be in that situation.
Dallas needs Jalen Brunson
This is obvious, but Brunson is now 9-of-28 on the series with nearly as many personal fouls (8) as made baskets. I’m sure I’ll get some grief in the comments that he’s not getting the ball enough and I do think Brunson was planted in the corner far too often this game, but he’s not taking advantage on offense. It’s bleeding over into other elements of his game as well as he got picked on on defense and gave up a couple of offensive rebounds, which is something I never see.
It’s easy to jump in on a narrative we’ve talked about in terms of Brunson struggling with length. But as one person on Twitter told me everyone in the NBA is taller than Brunson, so what are we talking about? While we mean he struggles with taller defenders who are actually good at defense, I think this is simpler than all that: Brunson just needs to play better.
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