DALLAS — Phoneix Suns guard Chris Paul handed out the bulk of the gifts on his 37th birthday in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals, committing six of his game-high seven turnovers over the first 17 minutes of a 103-94 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Friday.
“It felt like all seven were back-to-back-to-back too,” Paul said. “A couple more back-to-backs right there, too. If I don’t turn the ball over like that, I feel like it’s a different game. Give them a lot of credit. They came out and did what they were supposed to do, and we’ll be back on Sunday.”
Dallas finally defeated Phoenix for the first time in 11 tries (regular season and postseason) on the strength of a near-triple double from Luka Doncic (26 points, 13 rebounds, 9 assists), Jalen Brunson’s game-high 28 points and solid contributions from a supporting cast that was virtually non-existent in the first two contests of this series, which now sits at 2-1 in favor of the Suns. The Mavericks also capitalized on a total of 12 turnovers from Phoenix’s superstar backcourt duo of Paul and Devin Booker. Dallas poured in 22 points off the Suns’ combined 17 giveaways.
The Mavericks now own a home record of 3-1 so far in the playoffs, which should conjure some hope the squad can overcome the 2-0 deficit it faced coming into Game 3.
We’ll get into Doncic’s monster night, Paul’s birthday, and more in our five takeaways from Dallas’ dominant showing in Game 3 that sets the stage for the team to deadlock the series Sunday in Game 4 at American Airlines Center (3:30 ET, ESPN).
1. Dominant Doncic
Doncic averaged 40 points over the first two games of this series, but he made it a point in this one to involve teammates early and often. In the first quarter alone, the point guard dished five dimes as Jalen Brunson scored 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting, before finishing with a game-high 28 points.
With black kinetic tape snaked over his right shoulder and arm, Doncic slithered through Phoenix’s defense over and over throughout the night to break down the coverages before striking as a scorer or a facilitator. Much credit to Dallas coach Jason Kidd for tweaking things somewhat and playing the Slovenian point guard more in the post during the early portions of the game. The move accomplished multiple goals. First, it kept Doncic fresh down the stretch, while allowing the superstar to facilitate more, which in turn opened the offense for early involvement from Brunson.
“Luka was great in the post putting pressure on their defense,” Kidd said.
Dallas shot poorly in the first quarter. But it hoisted 10 more field goal attempts in the opening frame and 14 more for the entire game, a stat not lost on Phoenix coach Monty Williams.
Game 3 marked the first time since April 24, 2015, against Houston (Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki) that Dallas finished with two players scoring 26 points or more while draining 10-plus field goals in a postseason game.
Doncic also looked spryer as the action progressed than he did in Game 2 on defense, where Phoenix mercilessly hunted him. The 23-year-old logged a pair of steals, and 10 of his boards came on the defensive end.
“I knew I could do better,” Doncic said. “The second half [of Game 2] was horrible by me. I knew I had to get back to my team and play better defense.”
Averaging 35.3 points, 10 rebounds and 8.0 assists, Doncic is the seventh player in NBA history to average at least 35 points, 10 rebounds and five assists through the first three games of a series. Russell Westbrook was the last player to accomplish the feat in 2017 during the first round of the playoffs with Oklahoma City.
2. Welcome back, Jalen Brunson
Brunson’s performance is exactly what Dallas needs for the rest of the series after entering it with high expectations for the guards stemming from a solid showing in the opening round. Brunson rang up more points (24) in three quarters on Friday than he did in Games 1 and 2 combined (22 points on 9-for-28 shooting).
“I kind of found myself playing with a little more hop in my step, getting to spots quicker and making decisions faster,” Brunson said.
A pending unrestricted free agent, Brunson flexed aggression early and took it to Phoenix by driving to the rack with near-reckless abandon. The shooting guard attacked the basket on 26 occasions in Game 3, after doing that just 23 times combined in Games 1 and 2.
That paved the way for Brunson to produce his seventh career outing in the playoffs of 20 points or more.
Brunson and Doncic’s drives helped the Mavericks outscore the Suns 50-32 in the paint. The last time Dallas racked up 50 points in the paint in the postseason was last year in Game 7 of their first-round series against the LA Clippers. Phoenix hadn’t been outscored this badly in the paint since Game 6 of the opening round against the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Mavs also finished with a 16-10 advantage in second-chance points.
3. CP3’s birthday spoiled
A near-blowout certainly wasn’t the way Paul wanted to blow out the candles for his 37th birthday, but here we are.
Hopefully, the point guard received some gifts after giving away so many out on the floor.
Paul’s seven turnovers in the first half rank as the most he’s committed in any half of his career. The most Paul has turned over the ball in an entire game is eight times back in 2012 against the San Antonio Spurs.
“Happy birthday, CP,” Kidd said with a smile. “We were active. We got deflections that led to steals. We came out aggressive.”
Game 3 also marked the first time the Suns veteran lost a game on his birthday. Paul captured wins in his other two birthday matchups in 2018 against Utah and 2019 against the Golden State Warriors.
4. Mavs entire supporting cast shows up
Although Doncic and Brunson combined for 54 points, Dallas finished with three more double-figure scorers in Reggie Bullock (15 points), Dorian Finney-Smith (14) and Maxi Kleber (14). As a team, the Mavericks shot just 44.4% from the field and 33.3% from long range. But as noted earlier, the home team put up 14 more attempts than the visitors.
Plus, you can’t dismiss the stellar defensive efforts put forth by Bullock and Finney-Smith, who served as the primary defenders on Paul and Booker, respectively.
“Everybody joined the party,” Kidd said.
— x – Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) May 7, 2022
The Suns starting backcourt attempted a total of 22 shots. Williams attributed the anemic attempt totals to the combined 12 turnovers Paul and Booker committed. Booker took a total of 39 shots over Games 1 and 2, while Paul put up 29 over the same span. Booker found himself giving up the ball when faced with all the double-teams thrown his way in Game 3, which also contributed to a lack of shots.
Phoenix finished without a 20-point scorer for the first time since Game 3 of the 2021 NBA Finals. The Suns also ended their eight-game streak of shooting at least 50% from the field.
“It wasn’t like us,” Booker said. “You can credit them. They came out, played hard, [and] played desperate. That’s that. We’ve got a series [now].”
5. Dallas 2-0 deficit history
In case you were wondering, the Mavericks have bounced back from 2-0 deficits to win postseason series twice in franchise history. Dallas rolled to three straight victories over Utah in 2001 to defeat the Jazz 3-2 in a first-round best-of-five series. The club also climbed out of a 2-0 first-round hole in 2005 to best the Houston Rockets in seven games.
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