The Dallas Mavericks are in trouble. Although they have shown the ability to hang with the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference semifinals, they haven’t shown that they can sustain their play nor take it to another level.
Dallas briefly took a lead in Game 2, but it was short lived. When it mattered most–with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter–Phoenix rode its stars and turned what was a close game into a chasmic 129-109 blowout win. Unless someone besides Luka Doncic steps up, the Mavericks simply do not have what it takes to compete with the Suns.
“We just lost focus,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said. “We’ve got to be better. No matter what time–playoffs or regular season–we got to stay together. We just found a way to beat ourselves there in that fourth quarter.”
For the second straight game, Doncic put the Mavericks on his back and carried the team as far as he could. He finished the game with 35 points, five rebounds, and seven assists. He now has a total of 80 points for the series. In Game 2, though, only two other Dallas players–Reggie Bullock and Spencer Dinwiddie scored in double figures.
“He had a great game, but no one else showed,” Kidd said of Doncic. “We’ve got to get other guys shooting the ball better. We can’t win with just him out there scoring 30 a night. Not at this time of year. We’re playing the best team in the league. We got to get other guys going.”
To their credit, the Suns are cherry picking Mavericks players and eliminating their effectiveness. Starting center Dwight Powell is virtually useless against Deandre Ayton and has totaled just eight points and one rebound for the series.
Likewise, Jalen Brunson is nonexistent. Much like the Los Angeles Clippers last year, Phoenix’s size and length have shrunk Brunson’s ability to compete, making his first-round performance against the Utah Jazz feel like a distant memory. He has 22 points on 32.1 percent shooting through two games.
Dinwiddie, too, has felt the squeeze. He has 19 points in the series on 6-18 shooting.
“Reggie and Maxi and Luka are playing, but we got to get JB and Spencer in rhythm and get them good shots,” Kidd said.
While Doncic is buoying the Mavericks’ chances, he’s also a target. The Suns’ defensive effort keys in on him and making it tough. Doncic has 12 turnovers this series and Phoenix is seeking him out on switches to exploit his defense and get their players, namely Chris Paul, open looks.
“I just got to play better defense. That’s it,” Doncic said.
It’s not just Doncic, though. Dallas’ defensive schemes have not been able to slow down Phoenix at all. Doncic suggests that they need to tweak their shell defensive coverage, but the problems may be deeper than that. The Suns are cooking them and shooting 57.5 percent for the series.
“It just comes down to being able to guard your man one-on-one and playing with a force to try not to get scored on,” Bullock said. “I just felt like, at times, we let our guard down a little bit on the defensive end and they were able to knock down some shots.”
Now, the series shifts to Dallas, where the Mavericks haven’t found much playoff success since 2015. In an 0-2 hole and out-gunned and out-classed, their backs are against the wall. The coaching staff must adjust at every level to give the team a chance to compete and win. Even though things look grim now, the series isn’t over.
“We believe,” Doncic said. “They got to win four, so it’s not over yet. We’ve got to go back home. Our crowd is amazing. So, we’re going to believe until the end.”