Can Mavs Take AAC Success On The Road For Game 5 vs. Suns?
The Dallas Mavericks began their series against the Phoenix Suns facing a 2-0 series hole heading back home for Games 3 and 4. After winning both games at American Airlines Center, it's now a best-of-three series with the Suns holding home-court advantage.
To win the series, the Mavericks must achieve something they have yet to accomplish this series; win a game at Footprint Center.
“I don’t think we’re taking it as trying to prove anybody wrong,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “We’re just taking one game at a time.
“Those first two games in Phoenix, we didn’t play up to our level, and we lost. We came back home and took one game at a time (and) we played a little bit better. Now we got to figure out how to win on the road.”
Getting off to a strong start against the Suns is essential, given they are undefeated this season when holding a lead entering the fourth quarter. Dallas held a sizeable lead at the end of the opening period in Games 3 and 4 but trailed in the two games in Phoenix. Can they come out of the gate hot on the road?
The play of Jalen Brunson has been vital in both the Mavericks' wins and losses in this series. He was contained to just a combined 22 points in the two losses in the series but responded with a game-high 28 points in Game 3. The supporting cast as a whole needed to "join the party" to give Doncic help offensively, and they've since answered the call.
"Everybody joined the party," Kidd said after Game 3. "They helped out on both ends. Luka [Doncic] was great defensively ... it puts us in a different position when that happens."
While Brunson chipped in 18 points in Game 4, Dorian Finney-Smith was the main supporting cast star of the night with 24 points on 8-12 shooting from deep. With the Suns not being a high-volume 3-point shooting team this series, it goes a long way when someone gets hot.
“(Finney-Smith) was aggressive (and) he didn’t hesitate when he touched it,” Kidd said. “When he’s playing like that and when he’s aggressive and not thinking about the shot – and just catch-and-shoot – it’s as good as anyone's.
“We needed that lift and he just picked us up.”
The supporting cast help went a long way in Doncic not getting worn out by the fourth quarter and leaving him vulnerable on defense late. Staying fresh is how Paul was able to take over to score 14 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter in Game 2 of the series.
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Among the factors contributing to the Mavericks' starting the series down 2-0 was the difference in communication they experienced at Footprint Center in a hostile environment compared to the American Airlines Center.
“Obviously, we’re confident,” Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber said. “The way we played, we did a lot of good adjustments in the two home games that we had, and we have to play the same way (in Game 5).
“Obviously, they’re going to come out stronger at home. The fans are going to be loud in there. We have to do a better job of talking on defense just because of that. But I think if we do the same things that we did here at home, we have a good chance.”
The Mavericks have experienced plenty of success with late-switching on defense to counter the Suns' short-range shooting reliance and to take away rim rolls. With neither Devin Booker nor Chris Paul is going to repeatedly draw switches and attack in isolation throughout a full game, it makes Phoenix work.
Another factor to consider is the disparity in shooting execution role players tend to experience playing at home versus being on the road come playoff time. The Mavericks were thriving in this area to begin the series despite being on the road — shooting a combined 33-80 (41.3 percent) on 3s in Games 1 and 2.
It seems like a challenging feat for an offense to shoot above the 40-percent threshold from beyond the arc for the third time in the building of the top seed in the Western Conference. All playoffs long they've gotten it done away from the American Airlines Center from deep — shooting 39.7 percent on 3s as the away team in the playoffs.
“The playoffs are about physicality, it’s about making the right play and then timely shots,’ Kidd said. “You’ve got to make timely shots against the Suns and you can’t turn the ball over.
“That still doesn’t mean you can win the game. But I thought the last two games our level of details was high and we’re going to need that in Game 5.”
Luka Doncic has made the Suns have to pick their poison and made them pay significantly for it since the series shifted to Dallas. The Mavericks are spreading the floor fully on offense to neutralize the Suns' bigs and attacking with off-ball movement to counter nail help against Doncic. If that continues in Game 5, the Mavericks' perimeter attack will get looks.
Pushing the tempo has helped the Mavericks to find opportunities to attack the Suns before they can get set on defense in the half-court. It takes completing possessions by grabbing boards and forcing turnovers to create those opportunities.
It takes a concerted effort in plenty of areas to defeat a team like the Suns once, let alone twice in a row, but three teams in a row? The Mavericks will surely have to be sharp from start to finish.