DALLAS – Phoenix coach Monty Williams takes at least some solace in the Suns reeling off the NBA’s best regular-season record, especially now given that neither they nor the Mavericks have won on the road in their Western Conference semifinal series.
“We’ve worked our tails off to be in this position,” he said. “When people say the regular season doesn’t mean anything … yeah it does. It allows for you to create this opportunity and advantage.”
By winning at home in Game 5, the Suns guaranteed themselves two shots to knock off the Mavs and advance to the conference finals for the second consecutive year. If they can’t win Thursday’s Game 6 at American Airlines Center in Dallas (9:30 ET, ESPN), they’ll return home to the friendly confines of Footprint Center for Game 7.
Phoenix owns a record of 10-2 all-time in a best-of-seven series when it leads 3-2.
“They’re an amazing team,” Mavericks superstar guard Luka Doncic said.
But as good as they’ve been throughout the regular season and the first 11 games of the playoffs, the Suns haven’t yet figured out a way to topple Dallas on its home court in this series. From the 2019-20 regular season to 2021-22, Phoenix bested the Mavs four games in a row at American Airlines Center. But in the postseason, both teams continue to hold serve on their home floors.
“I guess it’s a credit to the fan bases,” Dallas guard Jalen Brunson said. “Our fan base is great for us. Their fan base is great for them. Home-court advantage is a real thing.”
The Mavericks learned this the hard way Wednesday at Footprint Center, where Phoenix has defeated them three times by an average margin of 19 points. Dallas entered that outing averaging the fewest turnovers (9.7) by any team currently in the playoffs. Then, in the third quarter of Game 5 alone, the Mavs committed 12 miscues, marking the first time since the New York Knicks in 2012 that a team finished a quarter with that many giveaways in the postseason.
The Suns would score 24 points off Dallas’ 18 turnovers, playing the brand of two-way ball that has been the club’s trademark all season. Yet in the games played at American Airlines Center, the Mavericks found a way to negate Phoenix’s vaunted defense, averaging 107 points in their two victories.
“Defense, that’s what got us going,” Suns center Deandre Ayton said after Game 5. “We were running when we got stops, closing out possessions, and today I felt like we were on the offensive boards a lot. All that stuff generated so much energy and momentum plays, man.
“I think one time we had three 3s in a row, but we missed them all. But we were just so happy because of the second effort we were getting and the good looks we were getting as well.”
Phoenix surely wants to continue on that path against a Dallas squad that has demonstrated the ability to make that virtually impossible at American Airlines Center. The Mavericks’ margin of victory at home (9.5) isn’t as large as Phoenix’s. But we’ve seen Doncic routinely cook the Suns as a scorer and facilitator for a team that is leading the NBA in postseason 3s (15.2 per game).
Dallas shot just 8-for-32 from distance in Game 5, which is fewer than half the 16.5 3s it averaged over the first four contests of the series.
“They will live and die by the 3,” Ayton said. “They have great shooters over there, and you’ve just got to have a certain sense of urgency when you’re closing out to them because they can put the ball on the floor as well and have you in a blender.”
Williams said after Game 5 he firmly believes that “defense travels.”
“That’s the one thing you can do in any gym,” he said.
But so far, we haven’t seen it from either team on the road. That should give Dallas at least a sliver of optimism about staving off elimination and forcing Game 7.
Picking up the pace and relentlessly attacking the paint could solve many of the ills that surfaced in Dallas’ offense in Game 5, according to Doncic.
“When they’re set (defensively), they’re one of the best if not the best defensive team in the NBA,” Doncic said. “They held us to 80, and that’s pretty impressive. So, we’ve got to go and move the ball at a better pace, faster. I think the statistics are amazing when we touch the paint, and that’s on me.
“I have to attack the paint more. We’ve got to go back home and play the same way we played at home. I know our fans are going to be amazing.”
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