The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Phoenix Suns in Game 3 Friday night in Dallas, winning 103-94. Jalen Brunson led Dallas with 28 points while Luka Doncic notched 26 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists. Jae Crowder led the Suns with 19 points, seven rebounds, and five assists.
The Mavericks started off a bit slow again, but rallied quickly and finally escaped the first quarter with a lead, 29-20, despite Doncic struggling at first. Doncic only shot 3-for-10 in the first quarter, including 1-for-5 on 3-pointers. The Mavericks were buoyed by Jalen Brunson finally coming to life, scoring 10 points in the first quarter alone.
Dallas continued to lead in the second quarter, with Doncic finally hitting his stride, scoring nine points on 4-of-7 shooting. The Mavericks defense stayed stout during the first half, with just a few lapses, and they went into halftime up 51-44.
The Mavericks played pugnacious defense in the third quarter, turning the Suns over six times. This helped them push their lead to 82-67 by the close of the quarter. Phoenix made a push in the fourth quarter, but the Mavericks continued to hit big shots any time the Suns closed the lead. Reggie Bullock hit a 3-pointer with 55 seconds left to seal the game.
Here are three things from the win:
The Mavericks’ defense got aggressive
Dallas attacked Phoenix on defense tonight, and it was a welcome change from the passivity they’ve shown in the first two games of the series. Not even Chris Paul, one of the best point guards of all time, was immune. Paul had been on a heater the last few playoff games, turning in a 14-of-14 shooting night against the New Orleans Pelicans in Game 6 of the first round, and only turning the ball over four times in the first two games of the Western Conference semifinals.
But Paul struggled early tonight:
Chris Paul has never had six turnovers in a playoff half until now, per @ESPNStatsInfo. There is 7:50 remaining in the second quarter.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) May 7, 2022
Paul finished the half with seven turnovers. He eventually tightened up his game in the second half, committing zero turnovers the rest of the way. But that didn’t help his teammates, who got sloppy with the ball in the third quarter. Phoenix finished the game with 17 turnovers, up from their season average of 12.3 per game, and their postseason average of 10.8 per game.
It was great to see the active, attacking defense of the Mavericks back. Hopefully it wasn’t just a one game rebound.
Jalen Brunson re-emerged
Brunson went a combined 9-for-28 in the first two games of this series, scoring just 22 points. Tonight, the Brunson from round one reappeared. He went 10-for-21, good for 28 points, enough to lead the Mavericks in scoring. He also dished out five assists and only committed one turnover.
Brunson feasted in the paint:
Ideally, you’d like Brunson to shoot more 3-pointers. But in this series, the Suns are daring him to shoot from behind the arc, since he’s not exactly lighting it up. The problem is, Brunson isn’t taking the bait. He’s driving into the open space left by the Suns defenders (primarily Booker tonight) and getting to his spots in the paint. Phoenix may have to make an adjustment to how they defend Brunson if he continues to play like he did tonight.
The Mavericks dominated the paint
Dallas outscored Phoenix 50-32 in the paint tonight. Brunson was a huge part of that, but Doncic feasted in the lane, too. Luka went 9-for-14 in the paint, including 7-for-10 in the restricted area. It’s hard to beat the Mavericks when Doncic is getting to the rim. With Doncic and Brunson dominating the paint, it opened up 3-point opportunities for Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Maxi Kleber. They combined to go 10-25 from deep.
That’s a formula for the Mavericks to steal games. Penetrate the Suns’ defense and make them decide what they want to defend. They can either trap Doncic and Brunson inside the arc, which creates 3-point opportunities for his teammates, or stay at home on those shooters and let Doncic and Brunson feast in the midrange and at the rim.
The Suns can shut that down at the point of attack by preventing the driving penetration of the Mavericks’ guards, but that’ll involve some tweaking of their defense. Maybe they switch Mikal Bridges onto Brunson more often to completely shut him down. That’s the chess match of the playoffs, and we’ll have to wait until Game 4 to find out.
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