In this second round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, the Phoenix Suns have been dominant at home. They not only have a 3-0 home record, but have led by 20 points or more in the fourth quarter all three times. In the last two, Dallas has been so discouraged they threw up the white flag and pulled all their starters with nearly half the quarter to go.
But playing in Dallas has been a completely different story.
As the road team in Dallas for two games this past weekend, the Suns were the ones getting run off the court. The official 9-point and 11-point losses were a lot worse than the final score looked. Dallas had the lead for 88 of the 96 minutes over the two games, holding margins as big as 18 on Friday and 17 on Sunday.
The rabid Dallas fans extra gave energy to the Mavericks, leading to extra three-pointers, offensive rebounds, steals and favorable foul calls that helped Dallas stave off any Suns comeback attempts.
The foul calls got into the Suns heads and dramatically impacted their level of play. All-Star point guard Chris Paul was ineffective in the Sunday game because he got called for four fouls in the first 16 minutes of play, then got tagged with each of his fifth and sixth fouls within a minute of returning to action late in the second quarter and then the start of the third. That was the fastest Paul had ever been disqualified from a playoff game, and only the fourth time in 16 years of playoff experience he’d fouled out at all.
The weird calls were not limited to Chris Paul either. Technicals, turnovers and uncalled Dallas fouls also played a part in game where two different Dallas-covering media openly shared their thoughts that the game was called unfairly in the Mavericks favor.
Were the Suns affected by the officiating?
“You probably could make that case,” Suns head coach Monty Williams admitted afterward. “There were some things that happened in the game. Especially on the road, fans behind their team, and the emotion of the game it probably could sway you a bit.”
Chris Paul didn’t take the bait, though. “I can’t be putting myself in those situations where the call can go either way,” is all he said.
Speaking of Paul, we have not even touched on the ‘unwanted hugs’ given to Chris Paul’s family by obnoxious and drunk Dallas fans that got them quietly ejected in the third quarter and banned from the arena for a few months. The unfortunate term ‘unwanted hugs’ was used by the Mavericks PR team, but would not be the words used by anyone who witnessed the verbal and physical assault or by Chris Paul himself, who witnessed the action and whose involvement forced Mavericks security to remove the unruly fans.
To his credit, Chris Paul refused to give air to the incident after the game, and when pressed again after Game 5 for his reaction he simply thanked the reporter for showing concern and said his family is okay.
Cameron Johnson weighed in though.
“It’s frustrating,” Johnson said the next day after practice. “For him to have to deal with that. It’s so wrong on so many levels. It’s harassment. I feel for him and his family. You just wish there was more you can do. You wish you could just pause everything that’s going on and just handle the situation.”
Johnson described a similar situation from last year’s Suns-Bucks Finals in Milwaukee, where his girlfriend got hit in the back of the head and had beer spilled on her. Johnson said he heard his dad took care of the situation, and was told about it after the game. The family actually missed his poster-dunk on P.J. Tucker because of it.
“A large responsibility has to be on fans. They just can’t act that way,” Johnson said, coming back to the Chris Paul situation. “A fan can’t go up to somebody’s mother and harass them.”
He says arena staff handled it when they were alerted, but that there’s way too much harassment going on that goes unchecked until and unless it goes too far.
Now the Suns head back to Dallas, just four days removed from this awful experience. They have a chance to win the series right there in Dallas, and put behind them the bad memories of a terrible weekend.
“We have to show them that our competitive level is in its own league,” Johnson said.
The Suns will have to play better on the road, similar to how they have gone 4-0 in such situations in the past two playoffs, winning the closeout chance on the road against all of the Lakers, Nuggets, Clippers and Pelicans.
This one will be the most difficult, however. Dallas is arguably better than any of those teams, and their home court advantage is clear.
The Suns will need their best game yet to close out the series. The players have talked all week about not letting the calls or the other team impact their focus, and that they need to stay to their principles to beat a good Dallas team.
Game time is 6:30 PM AZ Time, and will be aired on TNT.