For three quarters Monday, that’s what the Mavs looked like in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns. At that juncture, the Mavs bore no resemblance to the team that won a six-game series against the Utah Jazz in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Suns surprisingly got too many uncontested shots and grabbed too many rebounds, and led, 96-79, after three quarters. While the Mavs regrouped in the fourth quarter, the damage had already been done as the Suns went on to win, 121-114.
“We just didn’t get off to a good start, but we didn’t give in,” coach Jason Kidd said. “We kept playing. We talked about it at halftime – being only down 13 – that we’ve been here before. We just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Here are our five takeaways from the seven-point loss to the Suns.
SLOW START: It’s been a while since the Mavs got off to the slow start that had them climbing uphill all night. The Mavs were uncharacteristically down 9-0 less than three minutes into the game. They also were behind, 22-7. It’s difficult to blame the slow start on the pageantry surrounding the Mavs being in the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 11 years, since none of these players were on that 2011 Mavs’ team. However, center Maxi Kleber did say: “We didn’t come out with the right energy. Maybe as a team we were a little bit nervous. But I think it’s things that we can fix, because we showed that we can do it. We came back and made the game close.”
DONCIC DOMINATED: Monday was another game where Luka Doncic showed that if he’s on the court in an NBA playoff game, he likely will be the best player on the court during that game. That was definitely the case again in Game 1 of this best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals series as the Mavs’ fourth-year point guard finished with 45 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. Doncic loves these type of stages. On a day before he was nominated to win the season-long NBA Cares Community Assist award, Doncic was 15-of-30 from the field, 4-of-11 from three-point land and 11-of-14 from the charity stripe. Doncic poured in 26 points by halftime. That was more points than any other player scored in the entire game.
UPSIDE DOWN: In their previous five games against Phoenix, the Mavs took at least a five-point lead into the fourth quarter before giving up at least 30 points in that final quarter and losing all five of those games. So the Mavs wanted to tighten things up and have a more palatable showing in the fourth quarter of Game 1. Mission accomplished, as the Mavs outscored the Suns, 35-25, in the fourth quarter as they more than held their own over the game’s final 12 minutes. Unfortunately, unlike in their previous five games against Phoenix, the Mavs trailed the Suns, 96-79, after the third quarter. Now, if the Mavs can just string four quarters together Wednesday, they’ll be able to go home with this series knotted at 1-1.
BOARD WORK: At times Monday, it was as if the Suns were on a pogo stick the way they were jumping around and beating the Mavs to rebound after rebound that were there for the taking. The Suns outrebounded the Mavs by a sizeable 51-36 margin. That includes a 26-15 advantage on the boards in the first half and a 25-21 advantage in the second half when the Mavs closed that gap a little bit. Also, the Suns enjoyed a 13-7 edge over the Mavs when it came to offensive rebounds. Overall, Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Cameron Johnson and Chris Paul collected at least five rebounds apiece for the Suns. Also, Ayton, Booker and Bridges each grabbed three offensive rebounds.
2018 DRAFT: Not sure if anyone noticed it, but a few players in the 2018 NBA Draft class put on a show in Game 1 of this series. Chosen No. 1 overall in that draft, Suns center Deandre Ayton collected a team-high 25 points, grabbed eight rebounds and was 12-of-20 from the floor. Mavs point guard Luka Doncic – drafted No. 3 overall in ’18 – wound up with game highs in points (45) and rebounds (12), and also distributed a game-high tying eight assists. Suns forward Mikal Bridges, who was the 10th overall selection in the 2018 draft, scored 13 points, snatched seven boards and blocked a game-high two shots. Meanwhile, Mavs guard Jalen Brunson – the 33rd overall pick in the ’18 draft — finished with 13 points. Basically, those four players in the 2018 Draft accounted for 96 points Monday – or 40.9 percent of the points that were scored.