If there’s any consolation to be found after the Dallas Mavericks loss to the No. 1 seeded Phoenix Suns, it’s that the Mavs know what needs to be done. Monday’s 121-114 loss was a tough one to watch. The Mavs fell behind from the jump, and while they rallied back at various points, they never seized the lead once.
At face value this was a butt-kicking. It was a top seeded team in the West showing why they’re the top seeded team in the West. But this wasn’t just a matter of being outclassed. It was outplayed. That’s an important distinction to make.
It’s no secret, the Dallas Mavericks know what needs to be done to beat the Suns
Despite posting 45-points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists, Luka Doncic wasn’t enough to propel the Mavs to victory. But we knew that already. We knew the best player in the series was going to play like the best player in the series. It’s always been about everyone else.
The Dallas Mavericks roster, sans Doncic, shocked the NBA in the first round. While Luka was out with a calf injury, other players rose to the occasion and went 2-1 on the Jazz. They played inspired defense and fast pinpoint offense. Neither of which transferred to round two.
Clearly the same game plan was not going to work against the Suns. The Suns are not the three-point shooting team the Jazz were. They often lean on the midrange and ball movement to the paint to score their points. But Jason Kidd’s Mavs never expected them to be Utah. The Mavs knew exactly what to except from the Suns, they just didn’t do anything to stop it. Not even remotely.
Dallas allowed Phoenix to score 69 points in the first half. A number that’s borderline insurmountable. Suns big man Deandre Ayton was dominant in the paint, going 9-for-12 in the first half alone.
Kidd’s “small ball” didn’t work out great in game one, but without the option to match-up big, he’s likely going to go “smaller-ball” for game two. The Mavs found mild success with Dorian Finney-Smith playing the five, and should lean on that early and often on Wednesday. That alone won’t solve Dallas’ issues. They need their secondary stars to step up as well.
Brad Townsend said in his DMN article last night that the Mavs “three-headed dragon was missing two heads.” What propelled the Mavs down the stretch of the regular season and through the first round against Utah was the play of Spencer Dinwiddie and Jalen Brunson. They were largely invisible on Monday.
The two combined for 21-points, going just on 9-of-21 from the field. Luka admitted the team defense was poor in the first half but plainly stated he thought “offense was the problem.”
Luka was right and it’ seems everyone knows it. There’s really no other way to explain 69 points in the first half than bad defense. A renewed focus in the second half helped fix that seemingly inescapable hole too. If they would have gotten their offense back on track perhaps they could done the impossible.
But even an all-world effort from Luka Doncic couldn’t save the Mavs. Not with Brunson and Dinwiddie struggling from the field. The good news is we have a diagnosis and we know how to treat it. Strong defense from the start will bring on a less desperate attack on offense. With patient and timely shooting, the percentages will climb.
Easier said that done? Sure, but it’s not pie in the sky either.
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Luka can’t do this by himself. We learned that on Monday.