The Phoenix Suns have had fourth quarter leads of 20 or more points in each of the first two games against the Dallas Mavericks in this second round playoff series. They have dominated the 4th-seeded Mavericks in the moments that count, including outscoring them 58-35 in the second half before the benches finished out the last five minutes of the game.
But the Suns are not going to ‘get happy on the farm’, so to speak. They know a 2-0 lead in the postseason is nothing to crow about.
“We’re only two games in,” Booker said after game two. “We haven’t done anything yet.”
Indeed, the Suns had a 2-0 in the NBA Finals last year with experts considering a potential sweep of the Bucks. After two games, it looked like the Suns had all the answers, and had already closed out a pair of 2-0 leads with easy series wins in the second round (Nuggets) and Conference Finals (Clippers).
But the Bucks came storming back with four straight wins, leaving the Suns to wonder what the heck happened.
Now the Mavericks will have three of the next four games (if necessary) in Dallas behind their home crowd, so don’t count your money for Conference Finals tickets just yet.
“They’ve got to win four so it’s not over yet,” Mavericks star Luka Doncic said after the game. “We’re going to go back home. Our crowd is amazing and we’re going to live till the end.”
Luka Doncic is a case study in the game’s most talented player being schemed just enough to turn his own game against him. A team cannot win playoff games with a single player doing all the scoring and ball-handling, especially if that single player can get exposed (and worn down) on defense.
“He’s a tough matchup to guard,” Devin Booker said. “But he’s gonna have to guard a bit.”
If the Mavericks are going to play Luka for 40+ minutes a game so he can run the offense, he’s going to be targeted on defense — partially to wear him down by the fourth quarter, and partially because he doesn’t have the lateral quickness to defend a ball handler in space.
None of the Suns would admit it openly, beyond Booker’s comment above, but yes the Suns are absolutely targeting Luka on defense to make him work.
Why is it so much easier for the Suns to look like the SUNS against the 4th-seeded Mavericks, after having such a hard time against the 10th-seeded Pelicans a week ago?
I asked Booker about that.
“I would just say the playoffs in general, it’s about matchups,” Booker said. “I don’t think the seeding is always correct in terms of, just different matchups. You’re playing against different players, maybe one team matches up different than another team. So it’s hard to say.”
Later, in response to a similar question, he said the Mavericks don’t have anyone like Jonas Valanciunas or Larry Nance Jr. to fight for all the rebounds. Instead, it’s the Suns killing the Mavericks on rebounds to the tune of +12 per game.
It also helps that Suns are refusing to miss shots. On Wednesday, they set a 54-year franchise record by shooting 64.5% from the field in a playoff game. They are also the first NBA team in a decade to make 60+% of their shots in back-to-back playoff games (Dallas Mavericks, 2012).
But the Suns made 50+% of their shots in every Pelicans game too. The Mavericks simply don’t have the length to grab offensive rebounds from their own misses to keep scoring chances alive.
“I don’t think we can play our type of basketball taking the ball out of the net every single time,” Booker said.
So often in this series, the Suns are getting that rebound after the initial stop and getting out in transition, which helps everything.
“We were trying to make it tough, trying to get consecutive stops in a row,” Booker said. “We talked about it, preached about it in timeouts, and for us to get the job done two quarters in a row, 23 points in the third, 26 in the fourth, that’s all we can ask for.”
At one point, the Suns made six consecutive stops, which helped open the floodgates of the whole second half where the Suns had a 33-9 run and overall outscored the Mavericks 71-49 after halftime, even including the five minutes of garbage time.
Booker is having the time of his life, being back in the playoffs for the second year in a row.
“This is all I play for,” he said. “Just getting another dose of it. I missed it. I don’t want to say we turn it on in the playoffs, but it’s definitely a different energy.”
The home crowd inspires the Suns when they start getting on a roll to keep that roll going as long as possible.
“It definitely got louder than the previous game,” Booker said of the home crowd. “They’re bringing it, man. The energies around the house, around the city. I think everybody’s on this revenge tour with us and it’s fun to be a part of it.”
This game wasn’t all about Devin Booker, of course. Yes, he scored 30 points for the Suns on just 42 touches of the ball (half of Luka’s touches, for perspective).
Yes, he started the second half with a personal 8-0 run to give the Suns the lead for good.
Yes, he made three straight three-pointers in the fourth quarter to absolutely nail the coffin shut on the Suns win.
But the game truly turned in the Suns favor because Chris Paul decided to do incredible Chris Paul things again.
Up three (89-86) with 11:23 to go in the fourth quarter, Chris Paul scored or assisted on 19 consecutive Suns points (14 points, 2 assists) in about four minutes of game time from the 10:58 to 7:04 marks of the period. The Suns lead ballooned from 3 to 14 points right there.
“We’ve had some bad luck against them in the fourth quarter for whatever reason,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said.
The run was part of a fourth quarter in which the Suns shot 84.2 FG% (16-of-19) from the field and 75.0 3FG% (6-of-8), outscoring Dallas 40-26 in the fourth.
Chris Paul scored 14 points and dished two assists during that 4-minute run. The rest of the game? 14 points and 6 assists in the other 32 minutes.
Jae Crowder talked about it seeming like Paul is just chilling the first two quarters before deciding when to take over the game.
“Just reading the game” is all Paul will say about his fourth quarter explosions. This is the 4th time in eight playoff games Paul has had one of these crazy good 4-5 minute stretches early in the 4th to give the Suns the lead for good.
Devin Booker is as much in awe of Paul as the rest of us.
“I remember growing up – I don’t want to take it back to when I was five years old again,” Booker said with a smile and sideways glance at a smiling Paul. “But me and my dad watched him play and he was like, ‘do you see how he makes sure everybody is involved and then he picks his times when he’s going to take over the game?’, and I’ve just always admired the way he does that. He’s just in control at all times. He’s two, three steps ahead of whatever the other team is doing. And just the leadership, that can never go unnoticed when you’re talking about this man. Just the way he holds people accountable, the will to win. The list keeps going on and on, that’s why he has the nickname (Point God) that he does.”
Enjoy this, Suns fans. You’re seeing the best point guard on the floor these first two games of the series, and his name is Chris Paul.
The Suns next play on Friday night, in Dallas, for Game 3 of the best-of-seven series with a 2-0 series lead.