If anyone believes the trends, it looks like the Phoenix Suns will win their 7th or death game against the Dallas Mavericks in Sunday’s Western Conference semifinals series.
After all, the home team has won every game of this playoff series.
But it shouldn’t have gotten to this point for Phoenix. Not for the team holding the best regular season record ever in the NBA, and especially after the Suns dominated their first two games against a Dallas team with limited quarterbacks other than star Luka Doncic.
Thursday night, the Suns had a chance to send the Mavericks home for the summer, just for a spawn. Dallas warmed up from 3-pointers and scored 39 points on 16 hits (41 percent), as Doncic bullied into the rim for easy dunks. Doncic also backed out numerous times, beating smaller Suns quarterback Chris Paul in a matchup that Dallas was keen to use the entire series in. Doncic finished the game with 33 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 steals.
“I don’t have enough time to talk about everything that gnaws at me, Suns coach Monty Williams told reporters after the game. I didn’t think we understood the desperation they were going to play.”
This was not a typical seven-game series. There hasn’t been a recession where the stars of both teams swapped clutch baskets. None of the competitions have been particularly competitive or even come down to the last minute. The only thing that did not change was arrogance and nonsense.
But a playoff streak like this has precedents. In 2008, the #1 seeded Boston Celtics faced the 8th seeded Atlanta Hawks in the first round. Boston won the first two games at home on blows, but Atlanta served at home repeatedly and unexpectedly. Celtics won 7th game 34 points. A similar trajectory shaped Boston’s next series against the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, but those games were more competitive. Boston would go on to win the NBA championship.
But precedent is no guarantee, and the Suns could be on their way to an absolutely embarrassing second-round exit after last year’s NBA finals. Last year, the Bucks and Nets traded home wins for six games in the second round, after which the Bucks won the final away. One more indoor game from Paul or a hot game from a Mavericks role and the door to the Suns could be shown.
If the Mavericks win, they will dethrone the Suns team, which has won a franchise record of 64 games, including an 18-game winning streak. This type of success is rare and difficult to replicate. Paul, who was selected as a 12-time All-Star once, is 37 years old. He is still elite as a point guard and is the league leader in assists per game. But the list of players who excel at 38 is small, populated by generations of players like Karl Malone, John Stockton, Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Paul is also a generation player, but this hasn’t been a particularly strong end-of-season streak for him, especially after Games 1 and 2. six assists in one game then for the array 10.8 average per game during the regular season.
Not having a championship is a major gap in Paul’s famous résumé. Game 7s 3-4 years old, It does not include the 2018 Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors when he missed the last game due to injury as a member of the Houston Rockets.
The Suns would also be at a crossroads with one of the league’s best centers, 23-year-old Deandre Ayton. restricted free agency set to enter. Phoenix didn’t offer him a max contract before the season, and an early playoff exit could hurt his chances of getting one now.
The Suns, however, have the advantage of getting into Sunday’s Phoenix game. They had the NBA’s best home record with 32-9. They’re being put to the test as veteran Paul is in the reins who made it to the final last year. They showed Doncic, who enchanted the Suns in their third playoff series, that they could hold on with averages of 32.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 7.5 assists in six games. Doncic faced three eliminations in his short playoff career, including Thursday, and has had a great success each time despite the defeat. 7th in the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers last year. scored 46 points in the defeat. He scored 38 points in Game 6 of 2020 against the Clippers.
The Suns won three games despite failing to protect Doncic.
But what they can’t stand is their own spin on the road, which devastates the Suns. Paul and Devin Booker in Game 3 Combined for 12 of them, more than Mavericks. In game 4, Booker had five. Paul had two but only played 23 minutes due to foul trouble. In Game 6 on Thursday, Booker scored eight points, Paul five and the Mavericks just six.
The Mavericks’ strategy to beat Phoenix was relatively simple: pair Doncic against Paul or clear the floor and have Doncic or his backcourt partner Jalen Brunson drive and find the shooters. It mostly worked. Role players like Maxi Kleber have often had success hitting 3’s.
One arrangement the Suns could counter is stacking paint with defenders to encourage Doncic to shoot 3s. A below average 3-point fielder, only 29.6 percent for the series. And if it goes to paint, the Suns need to turn off the shooters to break their rhythm. In Game 5, Phoenix’s best defensive performance in the series, Dallas scored 32 points to 8 points from 3-point range and had a poor 25 percent result.
Outside of Game 5, the Suns were consistently bad on defense and were only able to get over it with occasional strong offense. It often looked like the Suns were in a rush on offense—unusual for a Paul-led machine.
“The best part of all these playoff games is that you don’t lead by 20 points in the next game,” Paul said on Thursday. “You know what I mean? Each game has its own personality and has now been reduced to a single game.”