The Phoenix Suns Weren’t Supposed to Get Pushed to Game 7

If one believes in traits, it appears probably that the Phoenix Suns will win Sunday’s do-or-die Sport 7 in opposition to the Dallas Mavericks of their Western Convention semifinal collection.

In spite of everything, the house staff has gained each recreation of this playoff collection.

But it surely wasn’t supposed to come back to this for Phoenix. Not for the staff that had one of the best regular-season document within the N.B.A. by far, and particularly not after the Suns dominated their first two video games in opposition to a Dallas staff with restricted playmaking exterior of its star, Luka Doncic.

On Thursday evening, the Suns had an opportunity to ship the Mavericks house for the summer season, solely to put an egg. Dallas acquired scorching from 3-point vary, capturing 16 for 39 (41 p.c), whereas Doncic bullied his approach to the rim for simple dunks. Doncic additionally repeatedly backed down and overpowered the smaller Suns level guard Chris Paul in a matchup Dallas had been keen to use the complete collection. Doncic ended the sport with 33 factors, 11 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 steals.

I don’t have sufficient time to speak about all the things that’s consuming at me,” Suns Coach Monty Williams informed reporters after the sport. “I didn’t assume we understood the desperation they had been going to play with.”

This has not been a typical seven-game collection. It hasn’t been a slugfest with stars from each groups exchanging clutch baskets. Not one of the contests have been significantly aggressive or come all the way down to the ultimate minutes. The one constants have been chippiness and trash speak.

However there are precedents for a playoff collection like this. In 2008, the No. 1-seeded Boston Celtics confronted the No. 8-seeded Atlanta Hawks within the first spherical. Boston gained the primary two video games at house in blowouts, however Atlanta repeatedly and unexpectedly held serve at house. The Celtics gained Game 7 by 34 points. An identical trajectory formed Boston’s subsequent collection, in opposition to the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, however these video games had been extra aggressive. Boston would go on to win the N.B.A. championship.

However precedent isn’t any assure, and the Suns might actually be on their approach to an embarrassing second-round exit after final 12 months’s run to the N.B.A. finals. Final 12 months, the Bucks and Nets traded house wins for six video games within the second spherical, then the Bucks gained the finale on the street. Another off recreation from Paul, or a scorching recreation from a Mavericks position participant, and the Suns may very well be proven the door.

If the Mavericks win, they may have dethroned a Suns staff that gained a franchise-record 64 video games, together with an 18-game win streak. That sort of success is uncommon and troublesome to repeat. For one factor, Paul, a 12-time All-Star, is 37 years outdated. He’s nonetheless elite as a degree guard and led the league in assists per recreation. However the checklist of gamers who excelled at age 38 is small, populated by generational gamers like Karl Malone, John Stockton, Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Paul is a generational participant, too, however this has not been a very sturdy postseason collection for him, significantly after Video games 1 and a couple of. Since then, he’s been dogged by foul bother, had problem defending Doncic, and has solely dished out six assists a game for the collection after averaging 10.8 per game during the regular season.

Not having a championship is a distinguished gap in Paul’s illustrious résumé. He is 3-4 in Game 7s, not together with the 2018 Western Convention finals in opposition to the Golden State Warriors, when he missed the ultimate recreation due to damage as a member of the Houston Rockets.

The Suns would even be at a crossroad with the 23-year-old Deandre Ayton, who is likely one of the finest facilities within the league and set to enter restricted free agency. Phoenix didn’t provide him a most contract provide earlier than the season, and an early playoff exit might harm his probabilities of getting one now.

However the Suns have the sting getting into Sunday’s recreation in Phoenix. That they had the N.B.A.’s finest house document at 32-9. They’re examined, having made the finals final 12 months and with the skilled Paul on the reins. They’ve proven that they’ll stand up to Doncic, who in his third playoff run and has torched the Suns, averaging 32.2 factors, 9.8 rebounds and seven.5 assists by way of six video games. Doncic has confronted elimination 3 times in his quick playoff profession — together with on Thursday — and he’s come up huge every time, although in defeat. In a first-round Sport 7 got here in opposition to the Los Angeles Clippers final 12 months, he scored 46 points in the loss. In 2020, he had 38 factors in a Sport 6 loss to the Clippers.

The Suns have gained three video games regardless of not having the ability to guard Doncic.

However what they might not have the ability to stand up to are their very own turnovers, which have bedeviled the Suns on the street. In Sport 3, Paul and Devin Booker combined for 12 of them, greater than the Mavericks. In Sport 4, Booker had 5. Paul had two, however performed solely 23 minutes because of foul trouble. Throughout Thursday’s Sport 6, Booker had eight, Paul had 5 and the Mavericks mixed for simply six.

The Mavericks’ technique to beat Phoenix has been comparatively easy: Match up Doncic in opposition to Paul, or unfold the ground and have Doncic or his backcourt companion, Jalen Brunson, drive and discover shooters. It has largely labored. Function gamers like Maxi Kleber have usually come by way of by hitting 3s.

One adjustment the Suns can counter with is stacking the paint with defenders to encourage Doncic to shoot 3s. He’s a below-average 3-point shooter, at just 29.6 percent for the series. And if he will get to the paint, the Suns want to shut out on shooters to disrupt their rhythms. In Sport 5, Phoenix’s finest defensive efficiency of the collection, Dallas shot 8 for 32 from 3-point vary, a dismal 25 p.c.

Outdoors of Sport 5, the Suns have been persistently dangerous on protection and solely often have they been in a position to overcome that with sturdy offense. It has usually appeared as if the Suns had been speeding their offense — uncommon for a Paul-led machine.

Smartest thing about all these playoff video games is you don’t carry a 20-point lead into the following recreation,” Paul mentioned Thursday. “You recognize what I imply? Every recreation has a character of its personal and now it’s down to at least one recreation.”

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