Looking to stay unbeaten against Dallas, the Suns went to Dallas looking to keep up their lockdown defense and get more out of Deandre Ayton to pull out a road win. Not so lucky. The Mavs slammed the door in the second half, winning 104-94.
For the second straight night, the Suns ran their offense through substitute starter Josh Jackson to open the game. He opened the game with five of the Suns’ first seven points, including a three-pointer. It’s an effective way to start the contest out with the right amount of ball movement while also propelling Jackson into rhythm right away. Kudos to Igor Kokoskov adapting with Devin Booker out.
Right away on the other end, the Suns were imposing their will against the Mavericks’ offense, keeping up a trend that followed them through the first two matchups between these teams. Mikal Bridges’ instinctive help defense forced a miss and technical foul on DeAndre Jordan and made Luka Doncic uncomfortable early.
Doncic responded with a huge and-one three-pointer to put the Mavs back within one midway through the period. Kevin Ray called him a “rock star.” Sigh.
After running starter De’Anthony Melton heavy at home on Tuesday, Kokoskov went with Elie Okobo early off the bench in Dallas. Okobo responded with a quick pull-up three over the Mavs’ J.J. Barea. The team’s foul problems continued as well, especially during the second unit’s run. Richaun Holmes picked up two early.
When Kelly Oubre Jr. enters the game, good things happen. He created two early turnovers and got to the rim effectively. Oubre also took the Doncic assignment most times down the floor.
A fascinating thing happens when everyone hustles, plays aggressive defense and speeds down the court: Teams play with numbers advantages. The Suns reaped the benefits the past two nights — Dallas turned the ball over XX times in the first half and as a result, the Suns’ transition offense has been great.
Another positive trend followed the Mavs back home from these teams’ last meeting. Poor shooting plagued Dallas in the Dec. 14 matchup and they began this one in a 2-13 hole from deep as well. It certainly made life easier for Phoenix. I may have jinxed the Suns by writing this. Just like that, Dallas made two quick shots from deep — one each from Maxi Kleber and Barea — to narrow the gap to three.
Suns led, 50-46, at the half.
No one wanted to win this game. The Mavs kept turning the ball over and Jackson’s shot came back to Earth. Deandre Ayton’s stayed at ground zero. The two missed their first three or four shots of the quarter.
After Dallas coach Rick Carlisle called a timeout with about seven minutes to go, his team responded with an 8-0 run to go up seven.
Somehow, at this point Ayton still had not made a single field goal. He hit two free throws with 1:39 left but his lack of offense was a big problem throughout the contest.
If you’re Deandre Ayton, you just fire these last 3 quarters into the sun and worry about the 4th.— Mike Lisboa (@MikeLisboa) January 10, 2019
Ayton made a shot! Off a quick lob from Oubre, Ayton got an easy bucket inside to start the scoring in the final period. Suns down just six.
A backbreaking sequence shortly after symbolized the Suns’ struggles without Devin Booker. The Suns got a stop by forcing Doncic into a deep three, then grabbed a steal following Dallas’ offensive rebound before moving the ball quickly down the court. Warren teed up from deep — open — but hit the front of the rim. On the other end, Barea swished a three of his own to put the Mavs up nine.
It was clear if the Suns couldn’t stop the Mavs they would lose.
One of the only guys playing with consistent effort on that end, Melton, fouled out with seven minutes to go. Ayton sat most of the fourth in foul trouble of his own.
Phoenix simply couldn’t string together consecutive possessions on either end to put the game away while the Mavericks executed down the stretch.