If anyone believes the trends, it looks like Phoenix Suns will win Sunday’s Do or Die Game 7 against the Dallas Mavericks in their Western Conference semi-final series.
After all, the home team has won every match of this playoff series.
But that was not to be for Phoenix. Not for the team that had the best regular season record ever in the NBA, and especially not after the Sons made their first two games against the Dallas team with limited playmaking out of their star, Luka Donic. Dominated.
On Thursday night, the Sun had the opportunity to send Mavericks home for the summer, just to lay eggs. Dallas warmed up from the 3 point range, shooting 16 for 39 (41%), while Donk pushed his way to shore for an easy sting. Donetsk also repeatedly stepped back to beat junior Sons Point guard Chris Paul in a match-up who was desperate to take advantage of the entire Dallas series. Donk finished the game with 33 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 steels.
““I don’t have much time to talk about everything that is eating me up,” Sons coach Monte Williams told reporters after the game. “I didn’t think we understood the frustration they were going to play with.”
This is no ordinary series of seven games. With the exchange of clutch baskets between the stars of both the teams, it was no longer a slug fest. None of the competitions were particularly competitive or last minute. It’s just a matter of consistency and junk.
But there are examples of such playoff series. In 2008, the No. 1 seeded Boston Celtics competed against No. 8 seed Atlanta Hawks in the first round. Boston won the first two games at home in the call-out, but Atlanta held the home run repeatedly and unexpectedly. Celtics won Game 7 by 34 points. Against the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, Boston’s next series was shaped at a similar pace, but those games were more competitive. Boston will go on to win the NBA Championship.
But there is no guarantee of a precedent, and the Sons could certainly be on the verge of an embarrassing exit from the second round after running in last year’s NBA Finals. Last year, the Bucks and Nets traded home wins in six games in the second round, then the Bucks won the final on the road. Another off-game by Paul, or a hot game of Mavericks role-player, and Sons may be shown the door.
If the Mavericks win, they will beat the Sons team, which has won a franchise record 64 games, including a 18-game winning streak. This kind of success is rare and difficult to repeat. For one thing, Paul, a 12-time All-Star, is 37 years old. He is still elite as a point guard and leads the league in per game assist. But the list of the best performers at the age of 38 is short, including ethnic players such as Carl Mellon, John Stockton, Michael Jordan and Karim Abdul Jabbar.
Paul is also an ethnic player, but this has not been a special series for him, especially after the seasons after Games 1 and 2. Since then, he has struggled, he has struggled to defend Donkek, and he has only six assists. One game for the series after averaging 10.8 per game during the regular season.
The absence of the championship is a significant hole in Paul’s brilliant resume. He is 3-4 in Game 7s, excluding the 2018 Western Conference final against the Golden State Warriors, when he missed the final game due to injury as a member of the Houston Rockets.
The Sons will also be at a crossroads with Dendre Eaton, 23, one of the league’s best centers and ready to join a limited free agency. Phoenix didn’t offer him a maximum deal before the season, and exiting the early playoffs could hurt his chances of winning now.
But the Sons have the lead in Sunday’s game in Phoenix. He had the best NBA home record at 32-9. He has been tested, he made it to the finals last year and is in control with the experienced Paul. He has shown that he can compete with Donkek, who ran in his third playoff and torched the Sons with an average of 32.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 7.5 assists through six games. Donetsk have lost three times in their short playoff career – including Thursday’s – and have grown each time, albeit in defeat. In Game 7 of the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers last year, he scored 46 points in the loss. In 2020, he had 38 points from Clippers in Game 6.
The Sons have won three games despite failing to protect Donk.
But what they can’t stand is their own turnover, which has surrounded the sun on the road. In Game 3, Paul and Devin Baker combine for 12 of them, more than the Mavericks. In Game 4, Booker had five. Paul played two, but only 23 minutes due to a mishap. During Thursday’s game 6, Booker had eight, Paul had five and Mavericks had only six.
Mavericks’ strategy for defeating Phoenix has been relatively simple: match Donk against Paul, or spread the floor and drive Donetsk or his backcourt partner, Jalan Bernson, and find the shooter. He has done most of the work. Characters like Maxi Kleiber often hit 3s.
One adjustment Sons can make is to stack the paint with the guards to encourage Donk to shoot 3s. He is an average 3 point shooter for the series at only 29.6%. And if it gets on the paint, the sun needs to shut down the shooters to disrupt its locks. In Game 5, Phoenix’s best defensive performance of the series, Dallas scored 8 for 32 off 3 points, a disappointing 25%.
Outside of Game 5, the Sons have been consistently poor in defense and only occasionally have they been able to overcome it with a strong offense. It often feels like the sun is accelerating its crime – unusual for a Paul-led machine.
“The best thing about all these playoff games is that you don’t have a 20-point lead in the next game, “Paul said Thursday. “You know what I mean? Every game has its own personality and now it’s on the same game.“