In another wacky game with outlier performances from a number of key players, Phoenix handled Dallas on TNT, 99-89.
The Suns put all media courtside tonight for the first time all year, giving us a different perspective as the Mavericks played the Suns for the first time since opening night. The battle between the No. 1 and No. 3 overall picks was nationally televised once again.
The battle between T.J. Warren and Harrison Barnes took center stage in the Suns’ first matchup with the Mavericks since opening night. Barnes didn’t play that night and the Mavs’ offense was noticeably off without one of its primary scorers and floor-spacers.
In this game, however, Warren got off to an incredible start with 11 points in the first quarter, nailing tough shots consistently over tight Mavericks defense. An and-one three gave the Suns the lead, 11-9, early.
Barnes, on the other hand, got some quick points before going cold from distance with the rest of the Mavericks. Dallas missed 12 of its first 14 threes.
The isolation offense that Warren can thrive in stifled Deandre Ayton. The chaotic start to the game pushed Ayton into midrange jumpers that had looked flat – always a bad sign for Ayton – and tough post-ups against veteran De’Andre Jordan. Ayton started the game 1-6.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle got the night’s biggest moment out of the way early for TNT and the fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena when he put the legend Dirk Nowitzki in with about three minutes to go in the first quarter. He immediately hit his signature, infuriating fallaway jumper over Josh Jackson to momentarily take back the lead.
As we’ve seen far too often this year, the second quarter was dominated by Josh Jackson. He was extremely aggressive, taking eight shots in his first 12 minutes. The problem was only one went in, an admittedly exciting transition dunk. There’s only so much impact hound-dog defense and gritty rebounding against a big Mavericks team can have when you shoot that poorly.
Ayton is learning to impact the game even when his shot isn’t going in. Despite a slow start scoring, Ayton stayed involved on defense and made Jordan work for rebounds. In the second quarter, he was rewarded, getting a quick look for a spin move and dunk over the veteran.
This was a game defined by who stayed focused and disciplined when nothing was falling. The two teams started 34-93 from the field, 37 percent, and the Suns made the most hustle plays to keep their lead. After a breakaway dunk by Warren, Phoenix led by 11.
They got the lead back to 10 at the half when Mikal Bridges nailed a deep 3 at the halftime buzzer.
The Suns opened the half scoreless on their first three possessions before a Warren three bailed them out. Dallas continued to make it easy for the Suns to stay in the game despite their cold shooting by turning the ball over constantly. The Mavs turned the ball over for the twelfth time early in the half. Had they strung together a few possessions, the Suns could have blown the game open.
Dallas isn’t a team you can let off against. They are too deep and opportunistic. The Suns couldn’t get a good shot and started to pile up their own turnovers and their lead was decimated. Two straight fast break dunks by Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic put the Mavericks within three, 56-53.
Then, the Suns shockingly got in the bonus early and started to get easy shots at the line. Between Warren and Jamal Crawford, the Suns just kept pulling out enough offense to keep the game out of Dallas’ reach.
Even with Mavs coach Rick Carlisle’s adjustment in the second half to get forward Maxi Kleber in the game over Nowitzki, the Suns’ defense was able to collapse into the paint and protect the rim, led by Ayton.
Kleber’s backcourt mate, Dwight Powell, got physical with Ayton early in the fourth after Ayton backed him down and fouled him in the post. Powell responded with a flailing arm that caught Ayton’s head and earned him a flagrant foul. The play also put Phoenix in the bonus early in the quarter once again.
Throughout the night, Ayton was more physical and aggressive, a welcome trend continuing from the past two games. He put his shoulder down against Powell and Jordan and seemed bent on using his body more to create space inside. It helps the Suns’ inconsistent offense without Devin Booker to have a player who can grab rebounds and clean up messes. We see it with Holmes and Ayton has the same impact when he plays this way.
Kokoskov stuck with Crawford in the fourth quarter after a really frustrating night on both ends for De’Anthony Melton. The rookie couldn’t create space on offense and struggled to contain Smith Jr. Crawford set up the offense much better and nailed tough shots to balance Warren’s high usage.
Jackson hit a clutch 3 off a Holmes offensive rebound with 3:18 to go to increase the Suns lead back to 10 for the first time in the fourth quarter. Apparently something about Dallas brings the best out of Jackson’s inconsistent jumper.
The Suns locked up the win on two consecutive sequences with the Crawford-Jackson-Ariza-Warren-Holmes unit when Crawford hit a pull-up jumper at the free throw line and Matthews followed it with a missed 3 at the top of the arc.