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2022 NBA Playoffs - Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns

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Game 7 Preview: The Suns control their own destiny — if they don’t turn it over

The Suns have been uncharacteristically bad at ball control this series, and need to rediscover their control of pace.

Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

What: Game 7, Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns, series tied 3-3, Western Conference Semifinals

When: 5:00 PM AZ Time

Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ

Watch: TNT

Listen: 98.7 FM

Betting Line: DraftKings has the Suns a 6.5 point favorite at home

This is it. One last game to decide whose fairy tale season continues and who goes home for the summer. One 48-minute game.

It’s kind of funny to note just how wild this series has been. Not only has each team won all their home games, they’ve done so in dominating fashion. Every game has been decided early.

  • Game 1 lead changes: 0. Suns led for 47:48 of 48 minutes in 11-point win.
  • Game 2 lead changes: 2. Suns led for more than 38 of 48 minutes in 20-point win.
  • Game 3 lead changes: 1. Dallas led for almost 42 of 48 minutes in 9-point win.
  • Game 4 lead changes: 1. Dallas led for over 45 of 48 minutes in 10-point win.
  • Game 5 lead changes: 5. Suns led for the entire second half in 30-point win.
  • Game 6 lead changes: 3. Dallas led for 40 of 48 minutes in 26-point win.

How will Game 7 play out? Who the heck knows. Could be a blowout either way, or could be our first nail-biter. We have no clue.

History definitely favors the Phoenix Suns to win the game today and move on to the Western Conference Finals for the second year in a row. All-time, home teams have a 76% win rate, and while that number has been trending down in recent years, Matt Moore of the Action Network shares that home teams as a 6-point favorite in rounds two or later are 9-1.

The Suns are favored by 6+ points at all the sports books.

Why are home teams the favorites to win? Mostly because they came in as the better team, having home court in Game 7 is because you won more games in the regular season. And partially its because your home fans are behind you, helping carry you across that finish line in a close game.

Chris Paul’s Game 7 memories are not as fond, however. Paul’s teams are just 2-3 when he has home court advantage in a Game 7. Yet, two of those losses were with Scott Foster — against whom Chris Paul has a 14-game losing streak — on the officiating crew.

Luckily, Foster will not be on the crew today.

Reportedly a non-COVID illness kept him out of Friday’s Bucks/Celtics game, so I suppose he’s still out of commission today. Karma? Good fortune? Whatever it is, Chris Paul has something to thank for a free game.

The crew calling today’s game is basically the same one that called Game 1 of this series, which was a normally-called Game 1 as I recall. Things only got weird from Game 2-4. In other words, we are unlikely to blame the officials for today’s outcome.

I’d much rather credit/blame players, so let’s take a look at who’s playing.

Probable Starting Lineups

Starters notes

Starters for both sides (with one exception) are already playing 35+ minutes each. Don’t be surprised to see that rise to the 40-range for both teams, especially among the top four (and assuming no foul troubles).

Dwight Powell is the exception here. He’s down to less than 10 minutes per game, but he has started all 6 games anyway. I doubt Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd will make a change to something that’s working, no matter how goofy it sounds.

In a perfect world, the officials (and fouls) are a non-event and we get the best of both teams’ best players for as much as they can handle. They have had two days’ rest before this game, and will have another two days rest (or much more) before their next one. No holding back.

Bench notes

It’s a Game 7, so don’t expect either team to go too deep into their benches in this one, but you can at least keep an eye on Cameron Johnson and Bismack Biyombo compared to Spencer Dinwiddie and Maxi Kleber.

For the Suns, you’ll probably only see Cam Johnson approach the 20-minute mark, but Bismack will need to be highly effective in his 8-12 minutes. Any more than 8-12 minutes from Bis is a bad sign for the Suns because that means there’s a problem with former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton.

The Mavericks will play 40+ minutes without a pure center in the game, which is going to be another challenge for Ayton. They will have either Maxi Kleber (6’10” but really a stretch four) or one of their small forwards manning the ‘middle’ in their switch-heavy lineup.

Ayton and backup Bismack Biyombo are going to need an impactful game on both ends, especially at defending in space, or the Suns will need to explore going small at times — with Crowder or Torrey Craig at center — to see how it goes. Game 7 is a tough time to experiment, though. Likely, the Suns ride-or-die with Ayton/Biyombo center combo playing all 48 possible minutes.

It’s silly to talk about mano-a-mano matchups among bench players because that’s not how it goes, but the Suns really need Johnson and Landry Shamet to play better collectively than Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans.

Pace, Pace, Pace

The Suns were 6th in shot attempts per game this season at 90.1 per game, while the Mavericks were 27th at 85.1 per game. The Mavericks prefer a much slower pace than the Suns.

As a function of the way basketball is played, each team has the same number of offensive possessions in a game with few exceptions (free throws, flagrant fouls).

Their totals this series? 82 per game for the Suns. 81 per game for the Mavs. Clearly, the Mavericks have won the pace battle so far. They like it slow and plodding.

And you can see it with your own eyes. The Suns too-often look stuck in mud over these past six games, unable to create a good flow in their offense. They appear to be over-interested in matchup-hunting — something the Mavs have lived on all year — and forgetting their natural ball movement in the process.

Watch the shot attempts. The Suns want 22 per quarter, 45 per half, 90 for the game. The closer they can get to the 90-mark, the more likely the Suns are in a good place offensively.

To accomplish this, the Suns will need to get into their offense with more urgency. The Mavs have been slowing down Chris Paul and Devin Booker (and Landry Shamet, when he’s in) with full-court pressure. To ease that, you should see Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson bringing the ball across the time line more often.

Then once the ball crosses the time line, get it into Book or Paul’s hands on the move and stop waiting for the right matchups on screen after screen. Just run the regular offense with precision and no one can stop it regularly. Then, when the fourth quarter hits, and both teams are a bit tired, THEN you hit them with head hunting on what you know will work based on what you’ve seen all game.

Urgency, and quicker actions to good shots. That’s a big key.

Stop with the live-ball turnovers!

I don’t even know what to make of this development.

The Suns were one of the best in the game at taking care of the ball — 12.9 turnovers per game, 7th-lowest in league — all season and in the first round against the Pelicans, but holy christmas they’ve been throwing the ball away all series to the Mavs.

Against the Mavs, the Suns have been committing 15.8 turnovers leading to 20.8 points off turnovers per game — both worst among the 8 teams in the second round.

And listen to this: it’s not like the Mavs are good at steals! They aren’t! For the season, the Mavs ranked 29th out of 30 teams with only 6.7 steals per game this season, but against the Suns its up to 8.8 per game. Those steals are the live-ball variety that often turn into fast break points.

Game 6 was worst of all — 22 turnovers turning into 29 Mavericks points, with 21 of them coming on fast breaks. Booker and Paul combined for 13 of those 22 turnovers.

And it’s not just those two. All of Paul, Booker, Jae Crowder and Mikal Bridges are up almost one per game.

Be yourselves. Take care of the ball.

Bottom Line

I honestly believe that, if the Suns just get a few more shots off and stop turning it over, they will win Game 7 without much else needing to change.

They don’t need 35+ points from Devin Booker or 11+ field goals from Chris Paul. That would be fun to see, and might be necessary for the win if Luka Doncic tries to be legendary and/or the Suns look bogged down again. But if they just take care of the ball and speed up the game, I don’t have much worry.

From the outside, Game 7 is one of the best things in sports. For a Suns fan facing a Win-or-Go-Home for their favorite team, it’s agony.

Jae Crowder has been in a pair of Game 7s in his career. He said he couldn’t sleep the night before his first one, and this time was preparing by getting some self-care (mani, pedi, massage) then turning off his phone for the night to binge Netflix.

Chris Paul was not available to media on Saturday, possibly because he didn’t want to take questions on losing his last three Game 7s (Clippers meltdown in 2017, Rockets in 2018 when he was out/injured, then 2020 Thunder as the underdog). Again, those last two had Scott Foster as the lead ref. He won’t be there today.

Paul also might have been getting special treatment to get his body as right as possible for Sunday’s game (no, he is NOT on the injury report). The last time he looked awful, almost unplayable, and had two days off before a must-win game, he went out and had 18 points, 9 assists and 3 steals to help the Suns win (Game 4, Lakers, first round 2020).

Devin Booker is excited about the game and has a good performance history in close-out games (30.5 points per game last year). We need efficient, non-TO Book in this one.

Monty Williams says this is what they worked all season for: home court in the most important game of the year. He won’t talk about adjustments, of course, but expect to see something new on Sunday at some point in the game. Two days to prepare is a LOT of time for this coaching staff.

I can’t wait to get there today, watch the coaches’ demeanor, take in on-court warmups, feel the fans’ energy... and enjoy being able to distance myself emotionally from the game while sitting in media row. I’m a super fan when I’m not working, which is not good for my heart.

The good news for you guys: the Suns are 3-0 when I cover the game this series, and 0-3 when I watch from my now-battered couch.

Let’s hope that good fortune continues!

Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation.

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