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

Suns eye return to best selves after Mavericks tie up series

Top-seeded Phoenix is struggling in every area that was a strength in the regular season.

Chris Paul collected more total fouls and turnovers than points in Games 3 and 4.

• Suns vs. Mavericks: Complete series coverage

The Phoenix Suns call themselves a “paint-to-great” team, but in Games 3 and 4 of this best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals series, the Dallas Mavericks kept stealing away the former.

Well, great.

Still, the positive remaining from the team’s last two losses is it understands packing the paint was just one of many adjustments Dallas made to pull even to 2-2, as the series heads back to Phoenix on Tuesday for Game 5 (10 ET, TNT) at Footprint Center. The challenge lies in the Suns countering the Mavericks’ alterations, while returning to regular-season form as the best team in the West coming off two straight defeats for just the fifth time in all of 2021-22.

“They’ve made some adjustments, and now we have to counter those adjustments by doing what we do a lot better,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said.

Minimizing the turnovers certainly would help. The Suns’ 111-101 loss in Game 4 on Sunday marked the third straight game the team committed 17 turnovers, and Dallas continues to feast off the miscues, piling up 64 points off 51 giveaways. That leads to Phoenix taking the ball out of the net more than it would like, which also plays a role in the team missing shots because they’re more well-defended when the Mavs have time to set up on defense.

Keep in mind, the Suns shot 50% or better in their first eight postseason contests. They’ve connected on worse than 50% from the floor in each of the last two games.

Dallas' guards aren't afraid to attack Phoenix's once-vaunted defense.

“I’ve said this a number of times: we’ve turned the ball over 17 times a game like three games in a row. That’s not us,” Williams said. “We’ve fallen into a little bit of playing out of the net, especially off 3s on the road. That’s not something you want to do. We want to be able to play in transition. One of the things that’s hurting us is just that we’re not getting the stops that we need to. In particular, the offensive rebounding. We’ll get a first-shot stop, but we’re giving up a timely offensive board. That’s keeping us from getting out into transition the way that we’re capable and the way we’ve done all season long.

“Then, the foul trouble probably hurt us with Chris [Paul] yesterday. It kind of threw our rhythm off a little bit. I think we’ll be much better tomorrow, just with the heightened awareness as to what they’re trying to do.”

Paul fouled out of just the fourth playoff outing of his career in Game 4. Williams called the veteran point guard on Sunday night after reports surfaced about the 12-time All-Star’s family suffering harassment from a Dallas Mavericks fan at American Airlines Center. Williams wanted to “just check on him, just as a man, as a brother,” he said. By the next afternoon, both Williams and Paul shifted attention to “just talking about getting back to who we are,” the coach added.

Phoenix is 8-9 all-time when a best-of-seven series is tied 2-2, while Dallas is 7-7 in the same scenario.

Dallas seized the momentum with victories in Games 3 and 4, and the Mavs did that in a variety of ways.

It’s already difficult enough to slow down Mavs superstar point guard Luka Doncic. But over the last two games he’s received significant contributions from Dallas’ supporting cast. In Game 3, guard Jalen Brunson blistered the Suns for a game-high 28 points, with Doncic chipping in 26 to go with 13 rebounds and nine dimes. Game 4 represented a coming-out party for two-way wing Dorian Finney-Smith, who drilled a career-high eight 3-pointers (just one shy of the 2011 franchise record set by Jason Terry) on the way to reeling off a postseason career-best 24 points.

Doncic added 26 points and 11 assists.

The Suns have not resembled the 64-win juggernaut from the regular season.

Playing from the post in spots as opposed to serving exclusively as Dallas primary ballhandler, Doncic has found a way to put together his customary otherworldly numbers while involving the rest of his teammates.

“You’re not gonna stop Luka,” Williams said. “The last two games, we’ve given Luka and [Jalen] Brunson, Luka and [Dorian] Finney-Smith [opportunities]. That’s been a thing that’s hurt us. A lot of it has just been the turnovers [and] their ability to force us into rotations.”

The latter played a role in six Mavericks scoring in double figures, with eight players hitting at least one 3-pointer, thanks in part to the open looks Doncic continues to generate.

“They were attacking the paint, kind of getting to their spots, and it was freeing up a lot of shots,” Suns forward Cameron Johnson said. “They were making plays, and they were playing hard. Now, it’s on us to respond to that and do what’s made us successful up to this point. It’s a combination of things. It’s too hard to sum up with just one statement. But Luka is getting them open shots and is finding them. We can’t give them those comfortable looks. We’ve just got to make it harder across the board on everything.”

That won’t be easy, though.

Phoenix has exhaustively discussed limiting Doncic’s impact now for two games, but the Suns continue to struggle with following through on the goal.

Williams declined to divulge Phoenix’s plans for Game 5, but there’s a good chance the team will look to shut down Doncic’s supporting cast to increase his workload on both ends.

“The big thing to keep in mind this time of year is that every game is a privilege. It’s a privilege to be in a 2-2 series with homecourt advantage,” Johnson said. “This is the exciting part about basketball. This is competition.

“You think a team is just gonna lay down because they’re down 2-0 after homecourt? No, they’re gonna come back and give you everything they’ve got because they’re just as competitive as anybody else. That’s what got them to this point. We have to show that our competitive level is in its own league. We’re capable of that. We’ve shown that all year. That’s what it’s gonna come down to these next couple of games.”

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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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