A 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4 was about all any Phoenix Suns fan could have hoped for at the start of this series with the Dallas Mavericks. So why does Friday night’s loss feel so surreal?
Is it because Chris Paul committed seven turnovers on his 37th birthday and looked genuinely rattled? This is just the third time in 138 playoff games that Paul has committed 7 or more turnovers.
Or is it because Dallas won despite playing their worse offensive game of the series? Dallas made fewer three-pointers and fewer free throws than in Games 1 and 2 and even shot a worse field-goal percentage than in Games 1 and 2.
These numbers barely tell the full scope of the oddity in exactly how the Mavericks defeated the Suns in Game 3.
The Mavericks played aggressive and active defense, forcing the Suns to commit 17 turnovers. And yet, the Suns outscored the Mavericks in fast-break points (7-6) and points off turnovers (22-15).
Additionally, despite being outrebounded on the offensive glass (9-8), the Mavericks outscored the Suns in second-chance points (16-10).
The Suns did some things well defensively, keeping the Mavericks All-Star Luka Dončić under 30 points and 50% from the field for the first time all series, as well as keeping the Mavericks bench under 20 points for the first time. And yet, the Mavericks outscored the Suns’ bench, 18-17.
Suns’ coach Monty Williams spoke after the game about the unusual nature of the game and how the team will need to respond.
“When you see us at 94 points and 23 assists, that’s just not a typical game for us,” Williams said. “But [the Mavericks] brought it, and from the jump, [we] felt their physicality.”
“I didn’t feel like we had a rhythm tonight on offense, to be straight with you, at all. You saw flashes of it, but we just didn’t have the same kind of offensive connection that we had in Phoenix.
Williams perfectly described how the game felt after the first quarter. After the Mavericks pushed the lead out to 14 late in the second quarter, the Suns were able to cut the lead under 10 on four separate occasions. However, the Suns simply could not find the firepower to complete the comeback, as they failed to ever bring the lead below 5 points after the first quarter.
“It wasn’t like us,” Suns’ All-Star Devin Booker said after the game. “You can credit them, [the Mavericks] came out, played hard, and played desperate.”
“But that’s that, we got a series.”
Suns’ forward, Jae Crowder, echoed Booker’s point about the Mavericks’ effort.
“Honestly I just felt like they wanted it a tad bit more than us tonight,” Crowder said after the game. “They played harder, they played more aggressive... they got pride, they at home fighting for their season.”
Paul afterward took some blame for the loss with his turnovers, but also praised the Mavericks and their efforts to keep the Suns at bay.
“If we don’t- I don’t turn the ball over like that, I feel like it's a different game,” Paul said. “I give [the Mavericks] a lot of credit, they came out there and did what they were supposed to do.
“Usually, going into the fourth quarter, if we keep it a little close, we can manage it or whatnot. But tonight they responded every time we tried to make something happen.”
So while it was disheartening to see Phoenix drop the ball on the opportunity to go up 3-0 and lose what was a winnable game, there is reason to strongly believe in the Suns’ chances on Sunday to push the Mavericks to the brink of elimination.