The top-seeded Suns take a 1-0 series lead
The Phoenix Suns looked a lot like the No. 1 overall seed as they made relatively easy work of the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night, holding on for a 121-114 win in Game 1 of their second-round series. Game 2 is set for Wednesday night in Phoenix.
Just 14 seconds into the game, Chris Paul hit a mid-range jumper to give the Suns a lead they would never surrender. It took less than five minutes for them to push their advantage to double digits, which is where it would remain for most of the game. The Mavericks stayed competitive the entire way, and used a late fourth-quarter run to make the final score respectable, but it never seemed like they would actually win.
Deandre Ayton was terrific against the Mavericks’ small frontcourt, finishing with 25 points and eight rebounds on 12 of 19 from the field, while Devin Booker went for 23 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Cameron Johnson added 17 points off the bench as the Suns shot over 50 percent from the field for the game.
Luka Doncic led the way for the Mavericks, falling just short of a triple-double with 45 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. He either scored or assisted on 23 of the Mavericks’ 40 field goals. This was his sixth career 40-point playoff game.
1. Suns go wire-to-wire with machine-like efficiency
On the first three possessions of the game, the Suns got a mid-range jumper from Chris Paul, a steal and slam from Mikal Bridges and a runout layup from Devin Booker. A few minutes later, Jae Crowder hit a 3-pointer off a pick-and-pop and all of a sudden it was 9-0.
The Suns would maintain that lead for the rest of the game. While their defense is often praised, and for good reason, it was their machine-like efficiency on the offensive end that proved to be the difference in this one. There were a few stretches where the Mavericks got red-hot from 3-point land and Luka Doncic started going off, but none of it mattered because the Suns got whatever they wanted on the offensive end.
This was a classic Suns performance: 50.5 percent from the field; 39.3 percent from 3-point land; no one over 25 points but seven different players with at least nine; just nine turnovers as a team. The Suns obviously have a bunch of great players, but this isn’t some all-time super team that out-talents you. Rather, they stick to their system, play within their roles and simply do not let up.
2. Ayton makes Mavericks pay
It took over four minutes for Deandre Ayton to get his first basket — an and-one layup off a feed from Devin Booker in the pick-and-roll — but once he got on the board he could not be stopped. He finished with 25 points and eight rebounds on 12 of 20 from the field in one of his best performances of the postseason.
Ever since trading Kristaps Porzingis, the Mavericks have leaned into an extreme small-ball approach. They’re super hard to guard as a result, but they also give up a lot of size on the other end and Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber are at a huge disadvantage against centers like Ayton who can actually score the ball.
Ayton had three dunks and was 9 of 15 in the paint. Even when he didn’t get the best position or slightly mishandled a pass, he could just rise up and shoot over the smaller Mavericks defenders. Judging by Game 1, Ayton is going to be a huge problem in this series, and it doesn’t appear the Mavericks have many options to slow him down.
3. Doncic’s brilliance not enough
A calf strain kept Luka Doncic out of the first three games of the postseason, and even now he does not seem to be at 100 percent. But even a hobbled Doncic is better than most players in the league, as he proved once again with a tremendous performance in Game 1.
Doncic was the only one who could get anything going early on as he scored 14 of the Mavericks’ 25 points in the first quarter. Despite his hot start, they trailed by 10 at the first break. That proved to be the theme of the game, as the Slovenian’s solo act came up short.
He finished with 45 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists on 15 of 30 from the field in over 44 minutes, recording his sixth career 40-point game in the playoffs. No one else in NBA history has more such games before turning 24. He either scored or assisted on 23 of the Mavericks’ 37 made field goals (62.1 percent) while has on the floor.
Even acknowledging that Doncic got a bunch of points toward the end of the game in a failed comeback attempt, it’s probably not a great sign that he nearly put up a 40-point triple-double and the Mavericks were easily outplayed. Either he’s going to have to put together four superhuman performances, or someone else on the Mavs is going to have to step up for them to win this series.