By William Coolidge
The second round of the playoffs has commenced and last night, the Phoenix Suns won the first game of a best of seven series against the opposing Dallas Mavericks. The final score was 121-114, but the game wasn’t this close until its closing couple of minutes. It was a great all-around performance for the Suns as they had 6 players on their team score in double digits, almost 7, but backup point guard Cameron Payne came just short with 9 points. Dallas, on the other hand, had merely 4 players on their team score in double digits. This includes a joyously welcomed surprise from Maxi Kleber, who poured in 19 coming off the bench, keeping the Mavericks afloat early in the game with 5 made threes in the first half. Despite the loss, Luka did all he could for the Mavericks, scoring 45 points, and coming up 2 rebounds shy of a triple-double. Looking past this game though, we’re left to question if the Mavericks can upset the Suns, or at the very least, steal a few games and make the series competitive?
The Mavericks are heavily reliant on 3-point shooting, as we can tell from game 1 of this series, in which nearly half of all the shots they took were from behind the arc (39 shots of 85 were 3-pointers). They generate a majority of their shots from Luka having the ball, penetrating into the lane towards the hoop, and kicking out to shooters on the perimeter, who then jack up shots. If they’re not open when the rock (rock = basketball) gets kicked out to them, the ball usually gets passed back to Luka to repeat the same process or create a shot for himself. This playstyle is heavily reminiscent of the Houston Rockets’ offense a few years ago with James Harden as the superstar with the ball in his hands; an era of the Houston Rockets that coincidently had Chris Paul as James Harden’s co-star. While this playstyle can be extremely effective for teams that have an offensive juggernaut such as Luka, and are completely loaded with shooters as the Mavericks are, top to bottom, these teams absolutely live by the three or die by the three. So by implementing an offense such as they have in order to be lethal on that side of the ball, they also have to accept losing the games their 3-point shot is simply not falling. And it’s not that their 3-point shot wasn’t falling yesterday, rather, the Mavs executed their playstyle how it’s supposed to be executed and shot above-average from 3. Now, see, it worries me for the Mavericks that they can play exactly how they want to play and how they’ve played all season…and still end up losing by what really should have been double digits; excuse their very late push to dress the scoreboard. But also, with their playstyle, their team is liable to have games where the shot doesn’t fall, plus the tremendous pressure from a stifling Phoenix defense, and in those circumstances, they are pretty much set to lose.
There’s no question the Mavericks are outmatched this series, however, they do have a fringe top-5 player in the whole league in Luka Dončić, and you can never count out a team with a player of his caliber. But, I also believe in this Mavericks team as a whole, not that I necessarily favor them to win, but I believe in their personnel besides Luka to a point where I can see a world where they knock out the Suns. Of course, this gets a little trickier when their playstyle is so predictable and seemingly not working. In their last series, Mavericks vs. Jazz, I picked the Jazz to win the series because overall they looked like a better team and they also had two stars in Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell–sort of like this Phoenix team. However, the Mavericks ended up winning, even with Luka missing two games! In one of those games Luka missed, the Mavs won, in large part because of a 40-point bomb from Jalen Brunson. So there’s a good chance the Mavericks can firepower their way past the Suns if Brunson can contribute some big games. In game 1, he was passive for the most part as he was in foul trouble pretty much all game, and therefore kept getting subbed out, which probably stifled his ability to garner rhythm. But going forward, if he can refrain from racking up fouls and, instead, deliver offensive blows next to Luka, then the Mavericks can certainly steal a few games and maybe even win the series. The Mavericks are also at a huge rebouding disadvantage, this was seen in game 1, as the Suns have a young, star bigman in Deandre Ayton–who the Mavericks have no answer for. Their big positions are filled by Maxi Kleber, Davis Bertans, and Dwight Powell. Maxi Kleber and Davis Bertans both being shooters that hang around the perimeter mostly, waiting for Luka to pass the ball out to them for a shot, and Dwight Powell being lethal in the pick-and-roll for his excellent rolling abilities. None of these bigs for the Mavericks are defensively capable enough of guarding Ayton in the post, let alone to pull down rebounds against him. Rebounding is a huge part of the game though, so the Mavericks might want to consider having all of their guys crash the defensive-glass to try to limit second chance opportunities for the Suns. Expect for the Mavericks to send multiple defenders at Devin Booker or at least play more help defense on him next game; rightfully so. Last game they pretty much left whoever was guarding Booker on an island and D-Book capitalized on those chances, getting bucket after bucket. The Mavericks also absolutely need Spencer Dinwiddie to step his game up, he has shown that he can drop in 30 points when they need him to and I’ve seen him rally the team back while losing; he did so against my Warriors. He had 8 points last game and only attempted 8 shots in the 30 minutes he played, he needs to at least try to do more. And if he does, thats a major boost for this Mavericks team and their chances of making it to the next round of the playoffs.
Conclusion: My prediction for this series is the Suns win 4-1, therefore I don’t see the Mavericks completing the upset. But, the rest of this series should be really fun, the Mavericks are not going to go down easy–if at all.