PHOENIX – If the Mavericks are going to win their series against the Phoenix Suns, they now are going to have to overcome some major odds that are stacked against them.
They had a superior effort and determination for three quarters in Game 2 on Wednesday and matched the Suns’ physical style in a rugged, foul-filled night. But the Mavericks still couldn’t find enough answers against the versatile Suns, who earned a 129-109 victory and 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven conference semifinals.
Chris Paul led the fourth-quarter getaway for the Suns as they turned a tight game into a blowout down the stretch.
The situation is not completely bleak for the Mavericks. But it ain’t pretty, either.
Teams that go up 2-0 in a best-of-seven NBA series advance to the next round 92.4 percent of the time (306-25). The four teams that went up 2-0 in the first round breezed into the conference semis.
But it has been done before, 25 times, in fact. So all hope is not gone.
But it will require more than the Mavericks had in them in the two games at Phoenix.
“They held serve,” said coach Jason Kidd. “They did what they had to do. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a split so now we have to go back and protect home.”
The Mavericks obviously had hoped to steal a game in Phoenix. And their mood after the game was clearly despondent.
But they also realize the series is a long way from over.
“The mood is fine,” said Dončić. “For a lot of players, it’s the first time in this situation. We believe, man. They got to win four, so it’s not over yet. We got to go back home. Our crowd is amazing. So we’re going to believe. We just got to play better defense.”
Just as Game 1 wasn’t as close as the 121-113 final score suggested, the Mavericks were right in this game — until the fourth quarter. They had done what they hoped to do coming into this series – given themselves a realistic shot going into the fourth quarter, when they trailed by only six.
But the tandem of Paul and Devin Booker were too much to contain down the stretch. Paul drew an offensive foul against Jalen Brunson and then lofted in a short push shot with 8:05 to go to put the Suns up 103-93.
Moments later it was 116-95 with under five minutes to play after a Booker 3-pointer and the Mavericks were heading back to Dallas for Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Sunday at American Airlines Center.
“Six point game, we have a turnover and they come down and score and at that point, we just lost focus,” Kidd said. “We got to be better, playoffs or regular season. We found a way to beat ourselves there in the fourth quarter.
“When you look at CP and Book, they took turns. One took the third quarter, the next one took the fourth quarter and we had no answers.”
Paul and Booker combined for 58 points. Paul had 20 of his 28 in the second half, when he hit 9-of-10 shots. Booker finished with 30 points.
The Mavericks got 35 points from Luka Dončić and some timely 3-pointers from Reggie Bullock, who had 16 points, but it wasn’t enough to withstand the Suns’ fourth-quarter barrage.
We’ve seen this before. All three regular-season meetings this season, the Mavericks were ahead going into the fourth quarter, but got beat by Paul’s crunch-time genius.
It was a rough night all around for the Mavericks. The game featured 54 fouls, a slew of them of the offensive variety.
The playoffs are getting more physical as they go along. That’s just a fact of life. And Kidd hit on a cogent point before the game.
“I think physicality is fine, as long as it’s consistent,” he said. “You look at the other series, there’s a lot of physical contact. Basketball can be a physical game, and that’s OK. If it’s going to be called that way, I think both teams are fine. But if it’s going to be tick-tack, I don’t think (onlookers want to be here for three hours watching free throws.”
Kidd jinxed this game with that comment. The first half was a procession to the foul line for Phoenix. But when the fouls began to even out in the second quarter, the Mavericks took their first lead of the series when Davis Bertans knocked in a 3-pointer to make it 41-38.
The Mavericks had gone almost 5½ quarters without a lead.
They made up the deficit with Luka on the bench, outscoring the Suns 15-6 without him in the first five minutes of the second period. Then they traded buckets to hang on to a 60-58 halftime lead.
By the way, there were 30 fouls in the first half, which is why it took over an hour to play.
And it got no better after halftime. The physical play continued, including a flagrant foul, penalty one, on Deandre Ayton when he bulled his way into Dwight Powell.
But the Suns pulled back ahead 72-66 midway through the third, largely because of Jae Crowder, who had scored 15 first-half points, but had a beautiful assist to JaVale McGee for a wicked dunk in the third quarter.
The Mavericks were down 89-83 going into the fourth quarter knowing that they had done what they’d wanted to do coming into the series but didn’t accomplish in Game 1: give themselves a chance going into the fourth quarter.