DALLAS — Jason Kidd explained the pain Dallas needed to endure in Game 4 to replicate success from Friday’s triumph over the Phoenix Suns.
“Just understand in Game 4 we have to be exhausted,” he told the team. “We have to feel we left everything out there. It’s gonna hurt and you’re gonna be tired.”
They’re also now tied 2-2 with the top-seeded Suns in this Western Conference semifinal series by way of Sunday’s 111-101 victory at American Airlines Center. Heeding the coach’s advice, Dallas executed with brute physicality and cold-blooded precision from 3-point range to set up a Game 5 showdown Tuesday at Phoenix’s Footprint Center.
Before we look too far ahead, let’s focus on the present and what Sunday’s result might mean for both of teams as the series progresses. Dallas owns an all-time series record of 7-7 when it’s tied through four games in a best-of-seven series, while the Suns are 8-9 under those same conditions.
As usual, Luka Doncic performed like the superstar he is, finishing with a team-high 26 points to run up his total to 655 over his first 20 postseason outings, good for third highest in NBA history behind just Wilt Chamberlain (705) and Michael Jordan (718). The point guard received plenty of help from the supporting cast, too, namely two-way wing Dorian Finney-Smith, who drilled a career-high eight 3-pointers on 8-for-12 shooting, totaling a playoff career-high 24 points.
We’ll dive into that and much more in our five takeaways coming out of the Mavs’ 25th win in their past 30 home games since the start of the new year:
1. Battle of backcourts
Clearly, Dallas rides some momentum in this category headed into Game 5. In the team’s Game 3 victory, Mavs guards Doncic and Jalen Brunson combined for 54 points, 17 boards and 14 assists before coming together in Game 4 for 44 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists. As we’ve mentioned before, Phoenix hunted Doncic mercilessly over the first two games of the series. But the Mavericks have turned the tables, employing similar tactics against Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges.
With just 1.1 ticks remaining until intermission, Paul committed his fourth foul going after a loose ball. With 9:32 left in the third quarter he got foul No. 5 and got foul No. 6 with 8:58 left in the fourth quarter. The four fouls in the first half register as the most Paul has ever been whistled for in the NBA, and his disqualification marked the first time since 2018 that he fouled out of a postseason contest. Paul finished with five points, five rebounds and seven assists.
But let’s break it down a little further. Over the first two games of the series in Phoenix, Paul racked up 47 points to go with 11 rebounds while turning the ball over four times and committed five fouls. In Paul’s last two outings in Dallas, he has 17 points with 12 rebounds, 11 assists, nine turnovers and 10 fouls.
Clearly, Paul needs a taste of home cooking as the series moves back to Phoenix. But credit Kidd and the Mavericks for cracking the code on finding ways to frustrate the 37-year-old on both ends of the floor.
Devin Booker, meanwhile, continues to put together superstar performances, and Game 4 was no different. He produced his third 30-point outing of the playoffs (and 13th in his postseason career) with 35 points, four rebounds and seven assists.
2. Doncic in the post
Since Dallas’ Game 2 loss, Kidd made the savvy adjustment to play Doncic more in the post — a problem the Suns can’t seem to solve. Doncic in the paint creates space for him to facilitate, while allowing Brunson to attack downhill. It also keeps the Mavs point guard fresher, so he can remain a force on both ends late in games.
Phoenix initially believed the solution for Doncic down low was to make sure the on-ball defender could stay in front of him for two to three dribbles. That’s easier said than done, right?
“I’m not quite sure anybody’s put a guy on Luka that’s totally shut him down,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “He knows how to pick his spots. He’s got really good footwork.”
Early in the game, the Mavericks roasted the Suns with center Deandre Ayton in drop coverage. Eventually, the Suns started switching. That didn’t work either. Phoenix experienced similar results when it played zone.
“I think when you put him in the post, he can score,” Kidd said of Doncic. “But also, he gives avenues of other guys being able to score because he causes a problem. He’s a very good passer. He’s a willing passer. If we can get to the paint and get to the rim, it helps us and gives us an opportunity offensively to have some success.”
3. Deep threats
The Mavericks shot 20-for-44 from deep against Phoenix in Game 4, marking the second time the team knocked down at least 20 3-pointers so far in the postseason. Dallas hit a playoff team-record 22 3s in Game 2 of the first round against Utah. In Game 4, eight Mavs connected on at least one 3-pointer, and four more (Davis Bertans, four; Spencer Dinwiddie, two; Reggie Bullock, two; Finney-Smith, eight) drilled multiple attempts from range. Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber and Jason Terry are the only Mavs to connect on eight 3-pointers or more in a game.
Interestingly, Doncic contributed only one 3-pointer.
While we’re here, let’s throw in some historical perspective, too. The Mavericks also finished with 20 3-pointers exactly 11 years ago to the day when they swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2011 West semifinals. In all, the Mavericks have hit 20 3-pointers or more in four postseason outings.
4. Dark first half for the Suns
Booker hit a technical free throw two and a half minutes into Sunday’s game to give Phoenix an 8-7 advantage.
That would be the last time the Suns held the lead, and by intermission they were looking up at their largest halftime deficit (12 points) of the 2022 postseason. The 68 points they allowed to that point are the most the Suns have surrendered in an opening half so far in the playoffs. Perhaps more concerning is the fact Phoenix surrendered 10 turnovers by halftime for the second consecutive game.
Dallas also tied a franchise record for the most 3-pointers made in any half of a playoff game (14), led by the red-hot Finney-Smith, who shot 5-for-7 from range over the first two quarters.
Surely Phoenix expects its current shooting issues to improve once it heads back home for Game 5. The Suns shot 50% or better over their first eight playoff games, but they haven’t hit better than 50% in Games 3 and 4 of this series in Dallas.
Interestingly, Phoenix entered Game 4 with the league’s highest winning percentage this season following a loss (.800), but Sunday marked the first time the club dropped two in a row this postseason.
5. Paul’s family shouldn’t be dealing with issues
Paul posted to Twitter in the aftermath of Sunday’s loss about a Mavericks fan that reportedly became involved in an incident with the 12-time All-Star’s family at American Airlines Center.
The Mavericks issued a release acknowledging the incident took place, and said they removed the fan from the game. While it’s awesome to root hard for your team, we can all probably agree it’s despicable to harass someone’s family, regardless of the person’s lot in life.
“The Dallas Mavericks are aware of an incident between a fan and the family of Chris Paul,” read the statement from the Dallas Mavericks. “It was unacceptable behavior and will not be tolerated. The Mavericks, along with American Airlines Center, swiftly removed the fan from today’s game.”
Good job. But the truth is this shouldn’t be happening in Dallas or anywhere else for that matter.
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