The Phoenix Suns defeated the Dallas Mavericks in game one on Monday night, as the team gelled and played as one, putting forth the most complete performance of this postseason run. Role players contributed, Deandre Ayton dominated, and while Phoenix won by seven points, anyone who watched the game knew it wasn’t that close.
After such a convincing victory over the Mavericks, the fan base is thrilled. And we should be pleased. The series against the New Orleans Pelicans was a hard-fought, drawn-out slugfest in which the Suns never dominated that team. It was a series that was required to ignite a team that was in need of a spark.
While we’re all feeling good about the win over Dallas, we must remember that the Mavericks are here for a reason. This team had the second best opposing points-per-game during the regular season (104.7), had the sixth best defensive rating (109.4 points per 100 possessions), and were one of the best perimeter defending teams in the Association.
They will make adjustments in Game 2. It is how the Suns respond to those adjustments that will either give Dallas life or crush their soul.
What should we expect the Mavericks to do? I thought you’d never ask. These are the adjustments I expect Dallas to make.
Attack the Interior to Negate Ayton
While the Mavericks enjoy shooting three-pointers – they had the eighth most attempts this season – it all starts with their emphasis on attacking the interior. We saw it several times in Game 1. Luka Doncic enjoys driving and popping, finding open three-point shooters for wide-open shots. While Luka scored 45 points, it was his teammates’ inability to assist him that cost them the game.
Most notably his fellow guards.
Jalen Brunson was in foul trouble and didn’t have a chance to get going. And, while he put up 27.8 points against the Utah Jazz and Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker is a completely different defensive beast. Jalen, too, is a penetrator who prefers to attack the interior and put pressure on opposing big men. He scored 55.1% of his points in the painter versus Utah. His 13 points on 6-of-16 shooting did not help, although 76.9% of those points came in the paint.
I fully expect the Mavericks to continue to attack the paint in an effort to score, but to also compromise the Phoenix interior by drawing fouls.
Luka noted this in his post game presser, saying, insert “I think I missed a lot of layups. I don’t think the offense was the problem today. Attacking the paint is our little weapon. When we do that we score easily, especially five-out, they have a big rotating, we gotta attack more in the paint.”
I think back to the Orlando Bubble. The Mavericks played the Suns twice in Florida, and in their first matchup it was Luka attacking the paint and attempting to get Deandre Ayton in foul trouble. And he was successful doing so as Ayton had three at the half and ended with 5.
It is an area of focus I am sure the Mavericks will attempt to execute ad nauseam Game 2. If they could be successful in the paint, and at the same time get Ayton in foul trouble, it is a win-win for their efforts.
How are the Suns going to avoid this? Make every effort to replicate Game 1. They made it difficult for Luka by constantly switching defenders on him and changing his eye level in relation to who his defender was. Luka will be whining for fouls. The Suns must simply play smart and avoid fouling. When he runs into the interior wall, stay home on the weak side and take away his shooters.
Luka has the ability to score 45 points; just don’t let him get his team involved. Make him work for his points, just like in Game 1.
How nice was it not to worry about every damn rebound in Game 1? After a physical series against the Pelicans in which they were out-rebounded by 10 per game, the Phoenix Suns were the team snagging the boards in the first game of the Western Conference Semifinals. The team had a 15-rebound advantage over the Dallas Mavericks.
Defensive rebounding is much easier in this series thus far…— Suns Sicko John Voita (@DarthVoita) May 3, 2022
Much akin to the Suns’ adjustments in the First Round, expect the Mavericks to focus on crashing the glass. The way that Phoenix was rebounding was too easy for Dallas‘ taste. We saw it when the Pelicans made a concerted effort on the boards, that is one way to wear down the Phoenix Suns. Make them spend their energy on the boards.
Dallas, on the other hand, is the NBA’s 24th best rebounding team – 24th in offensive rebounding and 20th in defensive rebounding. They don’t have a lot of size, and it will be a challenge to execute this game plan. Where there is a will, there is a way, and the Mavericks will emphasize the team-rebounding concept, a phrase we definitely used a lot in the previous series.
The Suns will have to adjust to the adjustment, boxing out their opponents, and not allowing them to crash the glass on both ends of the floor. They need to be prepared for the effort of the Mavs in this area.
If you spent any time on Mavericks threads, Mavs Twitter, or on mavsmoneyball.com, you’ll see this is one of the most frustrating aspects of game one for the Mavericks fanbase. This team is known for running teams off of the three-point line. They gave up 34% from beyond the arc this season, fourth best in the NBA. They allowed 10.9 three-pointers made per game, best of the NBA during the regular season.
The Phoenix Suns shot 39.3% from three and made 11 of their attempts in Game 1.
The Suns’ offensive movement and ability to whip the ball around the court creates numerous open shots. The Suns’ offensive movement and ability to whip the ball around the court creates numerous open shots. Phoenix had 15 three-point attempts that were classified as “wide open” in Game 1, hitting 6 of them (40%).
every time i watch cam johnson play the game of basketball, i am moved. he has a perfect understanding of his role and has one of the prettiest jump shots i’ve ever seen. plus he always seems to get one unexpected poster per game pic.twitter.com/9KL8HzbjYp— jaden ! (@jadenjaegerr) May 3, 2022
The length of the Dallas defense, provided by Dorian Finney Smith, Reggie Bullock, Luka Doncic, and Maxi Kleber, typically negates such positive performances by the opposition. The team was lost on the defensive side of the ball, as Luka noted, “Our defense lost us the game today”.
Jason Kidd will return to a perimeter based defense in Game 2. Their goal will be to run Phoenix off of the three-point line and contest every attempt. That’s how the Mavericks win, they beat you from behind the arc, as they were +132 points in the series against the Utah Jazz in this metric.
Monty‘s adjustment to the adjustment? Continue to move the ball, create open shots, knock them down, and when you are run off the three-point line, attack the interior and/or the mid-range. The Phoenix Suns shot 41.2% from the mid-range during the season. Use this is an advantage.
Monty Williams, his coaching staff, and the players will view the tape from Game 1 plenty of solid execution. If they are smart – and we know they are – they will also see what adjustments need to be made. That’s the game within the game, the chess match that is a series in the NBA playoffs.
They should, however, be prepared for any changes Dallas may make. This did not seem to happen in Game 2 of the First Round. Granted, the Pelicans had their best shooting night of the season, Devin Booker was injured, and the Suns were forced to make late-game adjustments they weren’t prepared to make.
However, as the playoffs progress and the competition becomes more difficult, you must be prepared for what the opposition will try to exploit. If the Suns can negate any of the Mavericks’ adjustments, they will be crushed, as they may find themselves without answers against a tough Phoenix team.