DALLAS — Reggie Bullock says, “Two can play that game” when it comes to deploying the tactics the Phoenix Suns used to hunt Luka Doncic on the defensive end in Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal.
“They want to bring our star player up to play defense, and we’re gonna bring their star players up to play defense too,” Bullock said. “It’s just gonna have to be like that, and [we’ll] see who wins the battle.”
Phoenix drew first blood over Games 1 and 2 by executing sets to bring up Doncic into screen after screen, which eventually wore out the superstar down the stretch after all the effort exerted on both ends of the floor. Dallas turned the tables in Game 3 by playing Doncic in the post early, which in turn, kept him fresh while providing opportunities for shooting guard Jalen Brunson to attack downhill against veteran Chris Paul.
Doncic took the same approach against defensive stopper Mikal Bridges, and bullied him in the paint, which likely limited the wing’s effectiveness on offense, considering he shot 5-for-14 on the night.
On the other end of the floor, Reggie Bullock harassed Paul mercilessly. The Suns point guard committed six of his game-high seven turnovers in the first 17 minutes of action, while three-time All-Star Devin Booker contributed another five giveaways.
Dallas coach Jason Kidd told Bullock heading into Game 3 to “continue to pressure, continue to catch and shoot, and if you get tired, ask for [a rest]. Don’t wait to where you’re exhausted to the point where defensively it hurts our team.” That led to a three-steal performance from Bullock, who also chipped in 15 points on the offensive end as Doncic’s entire supporting cast stepped up in a major way after limited contributions over the first two outings of this series.
Dallas essentially punked Phoenix in the paint, outscoring the Suns 50-32, while also besting the visitors in second-chance scoring, 16-10. Uncharacteristically, Phoenix misfired on a whopping 30 shots from the paint and coughed up 17 turnovers leading to 22 points for Dallas.
“Offensive rebounds, turnovers, I think we tallied it up to 38 points off of those two categories,” said Phoenix coach Monty Williams.
“Just felt like they brought a great deal of effort along with them coming up with those tip-outs or 50-50 balls. When you see us at 94 points and 23 assists, that’s just not a typical game for us. But they brought it. From the jump, you felt the physicality. Their attempts to go to the basket and get offensive rebounds I thought put us in the mud a little bit because we couldn’t come up with the ball and get out and run. Then, we just kept giving them extra possessions. In all those categories, we’ll be better on Sunday.”
Either way, the strategies employed by both teams throughout the series set up an intriguing chess match going into Game 4, between a pair of coaches that have proven highly effective at adjusting.
Sitting to Booker’s right after Friday’s loss, Suns forward Jae Crowder put on a pair of diamond earrings and snickered at the superstar’s response to a question regarding the team’s ability to find a rhythm in Game 3.
“[It’s] understanding that we’ve been in series before,” Booker said. “We were up 2-0 coming to their home floor, and the people want to see more basketball games. So, we’re gonna play some more basketball games.”
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