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Preview: Biggest game of season has Suns searching for answers

The Phoenix Suns need a big Game 5 to take back control of the series against the Mavericks

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

What: Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns, Western Conference Semifinals, tied 2-2

When: 7:00 PM AZ time

Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ

Watch: TNT

Listen: 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station, KSUN-La Mejor, KTNN 660 AM 101.5 FM

DraftKings Betting line: Suns favored by 6, with an over/under of 213

Probable Starters

The 6’10” Dwight Powell might be a nominal starter at center for the Mavericks, but they have almost totally ditched the traditional one-big lineup for a smaller five-out lineup like the one here. Powell’s minutes have dropped from 15 to 13 to 10 to 9 in the series and might disappear altogether as it goes on.

Injuries: No new injuries.

Yesterday, our own John Voita asked the real Chris Paul to stand up. Now I’m asking the Suns role players to stand up too. Stop leaving your man wide open to give up the easiest open threes. Stop letting guys drive the paint so easily. Stop waiting for someone else to make the big play. And stop letting the smaller Mavericks get away with putting smalls on Ayton in the post.

And Suns fans, while even Dallas fans and media admit the weekend’s games were refereed poorly and leant heavily in the Mavericks’ favor, stop just blaming the refs for the Suns’ poor play.

The Suns played poorly AND they got some BS calls that, combined, ruined the chance to come back home with a commanding lead in the series.

Dallas, on the other hand, is taking every opportunity with full force and, believe it or not, won’t apologize for the unexpected 2-2 tie and a chance to gain control tonight.

The Suns poor play over the weekend in Dallas has them on the verge of an elimination game, needing a Game 5 win to retake command of a series that can now go either way.

Let’s talk about adjustments.

We need the Deandre Ayton game

Aside from the most obvious adjustment, the Suns need Deandre Ayton’s best game of the series on both offense and defense.

His raw numbers are okay. He posted double-doubles in both weekend games, and could be loosely argued as the Suns second best player on Sunday. But that’s only if you look at the box score and didn’t watch the game.

The Suns have somehow turned Deandre Ayton into Rudy Gobert in the worst possible way.

On defense, Ayton was being exploited the exact same way that Rudy Gobert was exploited in the last two playoffs — by being ‘hid’ on the baseline, stuck in between the corner three-point shooter and the paint, to where you’re not properly defending either position. Ayton is a better defender in space against a five-out offense, as shown in the Suns-Clippers series a year ago, so I’m baffled that the Suns are playing right into the Mavericks hands by using Ayton in the worst possible way.

On offense, Ayton has a much more diverse and small-killing game than Gobert, but has hardly seen the ball passed to him in the paint to punish them for switching a little guy onto him. Ayton needs to be more aggressive, and the Suns need to find more creative ways to get those good entry passes to Ayton for him to go to work.

Read more on the Ayton problem here.

Ayton has the skills to be better in space than the Suns are currently employing — or that Ayton is ready to display. He can’t regress now. He needs to stand up.

Stop Jazzing this series!

The Suns wing defenders aren’t helping either. The Jazz perimeter defenders will spend the rest of their careers trying to overcome their embarrassing inability to stop dribble penetration — which forces help from other defenders, leaving open threes — yet the Suns and their superior wings have somehow fallen into the same trap this series.

Sure, a lot of that is Luka Doncic being able to overpower his direct opponent. The Mavericks will spend a majority of the shot clock running screen after screen to get a favorable matchup — Ayton, McGee, Biyombo, Cameron Payne, Cameron Johnson — in space on Luka, who will then drive into the paint for a shot or kick out. Jalen Brunson is just a six-foot version of Luka in that way. The Suns have to find ways to reduce those exposures OR get those island defenders to do better.

Read more on the perimeter defenders failing to contain drives.

Luckily, the Suns defenders are better than they have shown, especially over the weekend. Let’s see if they can get themselves together for a really good Game 5 tonight.

Give us the real Chris Paul

The Suns Ayton and perimeter defense were bad in Games 1 and 2 as well. Not as bad as Games 3 and 4, but not great either. They aren’t the most obvious reason the series is now tied at 2-2.

The biggest difference is that Games 1 and 2 had the MVP-level Chris Paul, while Games 3 and 4 had the absolute worst Chris Paul we’ve ever seen. Did CP3 have a deal with some kind of bad angel, where he got to play All-Star basketball through age 36, but then turned into a pumpkin on his 37th birthday? If so, the Suns are screwed. ‘Twas fun while it lasted.

Setting the supernatural aside, we simply need Chris Paul to be good again. He’s had various issues in the playoffs the last two years for the Suns, but has regularly stepped up in the most important games.

Against the Pelicans, he had a terrible 4-point, 3-turnover, 4-personal-foul Game 4 in New Orleans to let the series get tied up 2-2. After that, people wondered if CP was done. LOL. He turned in 22 and 11 performance in the absolutely-needed Game 5 win, then the masterpiece 33 and 8 in the Game 6 clincher.

We need THAT Chris Paul back tonight.

Read more about Paul here.

Fix the other quite-fixable things

Our own Damon Allred pointed out a few other areas the Suns can — and probably will — improve. The shooting by the wings has been poor the last two games. Maybe don’t play JaVale McGee as much, considering he’s been hunted on defense this series and gets cooked by Luka or Jalen Brunson.

Oh, and maybe put out more effort than the opponent on a consistent basis? That would be nice to see. The Suns have maybe consumed too much of their own kool-aid this season and are expecting the playoff wins to be handed to them.

For more on these things, read this:

Don’t forget about Devin Booker

We haven’t complained once about Devin Booker, have we? He’s playing well on defense and offense in this series, which puts him in rare company of one.

Still, I’d love to see big-game Book here. Last year, he was great in Game 5s, all of which have been at home.

  • 30/7/5 against the Lakers in Round 1
  • 34/11/4 (in closeout Game 4) against the Nuggets in the semis
  • 31/4/3 against the Clippers in the Conf Finals
  • 40/4/3 against the Bucks in the Finals

The Suns can, and should, win Game 5 and very soon take the Series overall. Whether they will or not remains to be seen. In the 2021 and 2022 playoffs, the Suns are 2-1 in Game 5 of a tied series at home. As Devin Booker reminds us, they’ve got experience in this situation.

DraftKings has the Suns as a 6-point favorite, and I think they will cover the spread.

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