2022 Playoffs: West Semifinal | Suns (1) vs. Mavericks (4)

Series preview: Fully-stocked Suns, Mavs seem set for intense series

Neither Dallas nor Phoenix are nursing 1st-round series injuries, which should make for a thrilling, guard-heavy showdown.

A star showdown at point guard marks the Suns-Mavs semifinals series.

• Suns-Mavericks series coverage
• 2022 NBA playoffs schedule

Superstars Devin Booker and Luka Doncic each missed three games of their respective first-round series, but both returned right on time to lead the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks to Monday’s the Western Conference semifinals, which begin May 2 at Footprint Center (10 ET, TNT).

After a run of six consecutive first-round playoff series losses, Dallas advances past the opening round for the first time since capturing the 2011 NBA title. The defending Western Conference-champion Suns, meanwhile, knocked down their highest shooting percentage in a playoff game (60%) since 2006 on Thursday in a 115-109 Game 6 win against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Both teams found ways to bounce back from injuries to their superstars in the process.

The Mavs seem to be coming together at just the right time.

For Dallas, Doncic suffered a strained left calf in the regular-season finale that sidelined the guard for the team’s first three games against Utah. Doncic returned for the final three contests, finishing Game 6 with his franchise-leading 12th career 20-5-5 postseason outing in a 98-96 win over the Jazz in his first playoff series victory. Phoenix navigated similar terrain with Booker playing the first two games of its opening-round series against New Orleans, before straining his right hamstring in the third quarter of Game 2. Booker sat out Games 3-5 before returning to contribute 13 points in the Suns’ closeout victory.

Both players enter Game 1 of the conference semifinals healthy, but while they were out in Round 1 other players stepped up to add more potential layers to an already compelling second-round matchup.

With Doncic out of action, Jalen Brunson averaged 32 points on 50.7% from the field in the first three games of the first round, while Deandre Ayton stepped up in Booker’s absence with a combined 51 points in Games 3 and 4, before Mikal Bridges racked up a team-high 31 points in Phoenix’s Game 5 triumph.

Chris Paul made NBA Playoffs history in Phoenix's Game 6 clincher vs. New Orleans.

Future Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul closed the show for the Suns in Game 6 with 33 points on 14 of 14 shooting to set an NBA postseason record for the most field-goals made without a miss. Paul finished the opening round with 68 assists and just nine turnovers.

Phoenix swept the regular season series between these teams 3-0, but they haven’t played since Jan. 20.

3 Things to Watch

1. Clutch performances: If you’re unaware, “clutch” time refers to games in which the score is within five points in the last five minutes. In this series, we’ve got two of the league’s very best in that department so far in the postseason. Phoenix is 2-1 in clutch time in the playoffs, good for third among postseason participants, while the Mavericks rank just below with a record of 3-2. The Suns finished the regular season with the league’s best mark (33-9) in clutch games, while Dallas won 57.9% of its outings under those circumstances. Both teams can thank steady play at point guard from Doncic and Paul for their success in games that come down to the wire, and there’s a good chance we’ll see plenty of close finishes in this series.

2. Defending the stars: Doncic and Booker are prolific scorers, but both teams have defensive stoppers capable of slowing down these superstars. Bridges likely gets that assignment for Phoenix against Doncic when needed, but the Suns forward won’t be guarding the Dallas point guard exclusively. After struggling to handle Brandon Ingram in the first round, Phoenix sent plenty of double teams his way in Game 6, holding him to 8-of-17 shooting for 21 points. You can expect the Suns to employ multiple strategies to neutralize the playmaking Doncic. Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith likely takes on the role of stopper against Booker, who led the Suns in scoring in each of their regular-season wins over Dallas. An All-Defensive Team candidate, Finney-Smith can effectively guard every position on the floor. His defense on Jazz star Donovan Mitchell proved significant in the opening round, as Mitchell shot just 37.7% from the floor over the last three games of that first-round series.

3. Battle of the bigs: Ayton averaged 15 rebounds against the Mavericks during the regular season, and Doncic carried the burden on the boards (8.0 rpg) in these meetings for Dallas. In this series, the Mavericks will also need to deal with Ayton’s scoring, especially if they’re devoting extra attention to slowing down Booker. Ayton played in just two of the three Suns-Mavs games this season, shooting a combined 13 of 20 for 27 points. Dallas has just two true centers on its roster in Dwight Powell (who suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2020) and Boban Marjanovic. Neither of them is athletic enough to consistently defend Ayton, who has a Hall of Fame point guard in Paul to deliver the ball inside. The Suns also appear to have more depth at the position with JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo. The Mavs did employ a small-ball lineup in the second half of Game 6 on Thursday with Finney at center, and that played a crucial role in the team’s comeback victory over Utah.

Number to know

17.4 — The Mavs ranked last in pace in the regular season, averaging just 95.6 possessions per 48 minutes. And their series against the Jazz was the slowest-paced series of the first round, with the two teams averaging just 91.3 possessions per 48. Overall pace is about both offense and defense, but according to Second Spectrum tracking, the Mavs averaged a league-high 15.8 seconds per offensive possession in the regular season. And over their six games against Utah, that number jumped to 17.4 seconds per possession.

For the third straight year, Luka Doncic leads the postseason in time of possession. Dallas likes to play slow and control the ball. And fewer possessions can help shrink the gap between a very good team and an elite one. Of course, fewer possessions can also make it more likely that the score is close down the stretch.

And with their win in Game 6 in New Orleans on Thursday, the Suns are now 35-10 (.777) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. They were 2-0 in clutch games against the Mavs in the regular season (Doncic played in only one of those two games), scoring an amazing 30 points on 17 clutch possessions. Dallas is 25-18 in clutch games after their Game 6 win in Utah, but ranked 27th in clutch defense (117.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) in the regular season.

— John Schuhmann

The Pick

The backcourts of these teams are flooded with talent in superstar guards Doncic, Booker and Paul. Despite Doncic’s transcendent skillset, it’s playoff experience that will carry this series. The defending Western Conference champions own the advantage there. The Suns won’t shut down Doncic entirely … they can’t. Besides, they’ve also got to deal with Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie — who broke out of a first-round shooting slump in a major way in Game 6 against Utah — as well as clutch shooter Finney-Smith. Expect plenty of big nights production-wise from Doncic. But when the games are on the line, look for the veteran Paul to take control and carry Phoenix back to the West finals. Suns in 7.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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