If anyone believes in the trends, it is likely Phoenix Suns will win Sunday’s 7th game against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinal series.
After all, the hosts have won every game of this playoff series.
But for Phoenix this should not have happened. Not for the team that had the best record in the NBA regular season, and especially since Sansi dominated his first two games against the Dallas team, with limited playmaking behind his star, Luka Doncic.
On Thursday night, Suns had a chance to send the Mavericks home for the summer, just to lay eggs. Dallas warmed up from the 3-point range, hitting 16 in 39 (41 per cent), while Doncic scared the way to the ring for simple dunks. Doncic also repeatedly stepped back and defeated Sansa’s little defender Chris Paul in a match where Dallas wanted to use the entire series. Doncic finished the match with 33 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 blocks.
““I do not have enough time to talk about everything I eat,” Sunny coach Monty Williams told reporters after the game. “I did not think we understood the despair with which they were going to play.”
This was not a typical seven-game series. This has not been a weak season where the stars of both teams changed baskets. None of the competitions were particularly competitive and did not end until the last minute. The only constant was pus and rubbish talking.
But there are precedents for a series like the playoffs. The Boston Celtics, seeded No. 1 in 2008, faced Atlanta Hawks, seed No. 8 in the first round. Boston won the first two games at home with blowouts, but Atlanta repeatedly and abruptly held service at home. The Celtics won Game 7 with 34 points. A similar trajectory formed Boston’s next series, led by LeBron James v. Cleveland Cavaliers, but these games were more competitive. Boston was going to win the NBA champion.
But precedent is no guarantee, and Suns, of course, might be on the awkward path to a second round after last year’s NBA Finals. Last year, the Bucks and the Nets exchanged home wins in 6 games in the second round, then the Bucks won the final on the road. Another game from Polly, or a hot game from the Mavericks role, and the Suns can show the door.
If the Mavericks win, they will knock down the Suns team that has won the franchise a record 64 games, including an 18-match winning streak. Such success is rare and difficult to replicate. One thing, Paul, all 12-way stars, is 37 years old. He is still the elite as a defender and led the league game with assists. But the list of players who stood out at the age of 38 is small, with a populated generation of players like Carl Malone, John Stockton, Michael Jordan and Karim Abdul-Jabbar.
Paul is also a generational player, but it was not a particularly strong post-season series for him, especially after games 1 and 2. Since then he has struggled, struggled to defend Doncic and made just six assists. Play for the series during the regular season averaging 10.8 games per game.
The lack of a championship is a visible hole in Paul’s famous resume. In Game 7, he is 3-4, not considering the 2018 Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, when he missed the final game due to injury as a member of the Houston Rockets.
Suns would also be at a crossroads with 23-year-old DeAndre Eaton, who is one of the league’s best centers and plans to join a limited free agency. Phoenix did not offer him a maximum contract before the season, and leaving the playoffs prematurely could hurt his chances of getting it.
But Suns has the advantage of entering the game in Phoenix on Sunday. They had the best home record in the NBA 32-9. They are tested, made it to the finals last year, and experienced with Paul Reins. They showed that they can withstand Doncic, who burned Suns in the third series of the playoffs, averaging 32.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 7.5 assists in six games. Doncic has been eliminated three times in his short playoff career – including Thursday – and he comes out big every time, albeit with a defeat. In the 7th first round match against the Los Angeles Clippers last year, he scored 46 points in the loss. In 2020, he had 38 points in his 6th game loss to the Clippers.
Sans won three matches, although he was unable to defend Doncic.
But what they can not stand is their own twists that have shaken the suns along the way. In Game 3, Paul and Devin Booker combined 12 of them, more than the Mavericks. In Game 4, Booker had five. Paul had two, but only played 23 minutes due to rough problems. In Thursday’s 6th game, Booker scored eight, Paul five and the Mavericks only six together.
The Mavericks’ strategy for defeating the Phoenix was relatively simple: Compare Donchich Paul, or expand the floor, and let Donchich or his back-to-back partner, Jellen Brunson, steer and find the shooters. Mostly worked. Role-playing actors like Max Kleber often get hit by 3s.
One of the adjustments that Sans can counteract is to stack paint with the defenders to encourage Doncic 3 to hit. He is a 3-point shooter below average, with only 29.6 percent in the series. And if he does reach the paint, Sans must close the shooters to break their rhythms. In Game 5, the Phoenix’s best defensive game in the series, Dallas hit 32 out of a 3-point range, which is a disappointing 25 percent.
Beyond the 5th game, the Suns played consistently poorly in defense and only occasionally managed to overcome it with a strong attack. It often seemed as if the Suns were in a hurry to insult them – unusual for cars equipped with Paul’s guidance.
““The best thing about all these playoff games is that you do not have a 20-point advantage in the next game,” Paul said on Thursday. “Do you know what I mean? Each game has its own personality and now it depends on one game. ”