The Phoenix Suns are now one game away from their second straight appearance in the Western Conference Finals after blowing out the Dallas Mavericks, 110-80.
For most of the first half, the Mavericks held a two-possession lead, but the Suns used a 13-6 run over the final 5:42 of the half to take a slim 49-46 lead into the halftime break.
A minute and a half into the third, Mavericks’ guard Jalen Brunson cut the Suns’ lead down to 1 on a mid-range fadeaway from the left post. This would be the Maverick's last points for over 5 full minutes as the Suns ripped off a 17-0 run and broke the game wide open.
Suns’ coach Monty Williams made adjustments to his game plan ahead of last night, but the improved efforts of the team as a whole defensively were evident as well and especially so in the second half.
“Early in the game, we forced them into some late clock situations that helped us and there were a number of guys that were able to stay in front of the ball tonight,” Williams said.
“I thought we had really good awareness to steal out to their shooters and get a hand up and we were pretty good at contesting.”
Suns’ center Deandre Ayton explained afterward how important this level of defensive effort is to their success.
“Defense, that’s what got us going,” Ayton said. “We were running when we got stops, closing out possessions, and today, I felt like we were on the offensive boards a lot. Our guards were getting in there, getting some tap-outs, Bizzy [Bismack Biyombo] got his hands on a few.”
“All that stuff generated so much energy and momentum plays, man. I think one time we had three [open] threes in a row, but we missed them all, but we were just so happy because of the second effort we were getting and the good looks we were getting as well. And then once the crowd gets into it, you got to pray.”
Tensions and emotions have steadily climbed throughout the series and seemed to burst in the closing seconds of last night’s game when Dallas’ Marquese Chriss gave a hard foul to Phoenix’s Bismack Biyombo. The two players seemed to exchange words before needing to be physically separated by their respective teammates, and both were subsequently ejected from the game.
This had little effect in calming either party down, as Chriss followed Biyombo down the tunnel leading to the Suns’ locker room, and once again, the two had to be separated by security staffers.
When asked afterward what he saw, playoff veteran Chris Paul downplayed the incident as simply the nature of the playoffs.
“I don’t know, I was sitting on the bench,” Paul said. “It’s playoff basketball. It happens, you move on, get ready for Game 6.”
Paul’s words are not dismissive, because ultimately that is exactly what the messaging will be today and tomorrow from both team’s coaching staffs. As much as Phoenix would want to revel in their victory, the bottom line is that the pressure was on them to win. A victory for the home team was expected, maybe not by such a margin, but those extra points don’t carry over.
If Phoenix has any hope of ending this series in six games, they must mentally wipe the slate clean and carry with them to Dallas the same focus and desire that they showed at home.
Otherwise, you can bet these two teams will be back here at the Footprint Center on Sunday for Game 7.