Clamping down on offense and defense, the Phoenix Suns outscored the Mavs, 33-14, in the third quarter while blowing the doors completely open on this game and erupting to a 110-80 triumph before a Footprint Center sellout crowd of 17,071. With the win, the Suns hold a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals series.
Game 6 is Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at American Airlines Center, and a seventh game, if necessary, will be back in Phoenix on Sunday. In facing their first elimination game of this year’s postseason, the Mavs know they must regroup at home and find a way to get this series back to the valley of the Suns.
“Our mood is basically we’ve got to focus up,” guard Jalen Brunson said. “It’s win or go home now.
“I think everybody knows that and I think that’s just known. It doesn’t really need to be said.”
What really needs to be said – or explained – is exactly what happened to the Mavs in the third quarter. During those ugly 12 minutes the Mavs made just six field goals in 15 attempts, and turned the ball over a mind-boggling 12 times that led to 18 points for Phoenix.
It was as if the ball was hotter than a pan of hot grease and the Mavs wanted no parts of it.
“We just didn’t play smart in the third quarter – offensively or defensively,” coach Jason Kidd said. “That quarter was no different than Games 1 or 2 here. We just have to be better, and we will be.”
After getting out of the gate with a solid 24-16 lead – Dallas still had an eight-point lead at 38-30 late in the third quarter — the Mavs’ lead slowly started to melt away. With Devin Booker rolling, the Suns outscored the Mavs 19-8 the remainder of the second quarter and carried a 49-46 lead into the dressing room.
And when the second half started, the Suns picked up right where they left off and made so many shots and forced the Mavs into so many turnovers that Phoenix built a 78-54 lead with 2:02 remaining in the third quarter.
“They went on a run,” said Brunson, who finished with 21 points and seven rebounds. “They applied the pressure early.
“They kind of went on that run – however long it was – and there was no looking back for them. So I have to give them credit. We just got to be better together.”
It was a game were the Mavs just weren’t themselves in the third quarter. Dallas shot only 38 percent from the field, missed 24 of 32 three-pointers, got outrebounded, 50-38, and finished with just nine assists.
The Mavs also turned the ball over 18 times leading to 24 points for Phoenix, while the Suns committed just 12 turnovers – the same number the Mavs committed in the third quarter.
“They’re an amazing team,” said Luka Doncic, who collected 28 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and three steals. “They held us to 80, so that’s pretty impressive.”
What’s so inexplicable is that the Mavs actually were in firm control of this game for the majority of the first half after they busted out to a 10-3 lead following a three-pointer by Dorian Finney-Smith. But after a free throw by Brunson put the Mavs ahead, 38-30, they were never the same the rest of the game.
“We had a good first half,” Kidd said. “We got off to a good start. That’s a positive.
Booker poured in 12 of his team-high 28 points in the decisive third quarter. Meanwhile, Deandre Ayton was a terror in the paint with 20 points and nine rebounds for the Suns, and Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson added 14 points apiece.
On the flip side, besides what they got from Doncic and Brunson, the only other member of the Mavs with a meaningful game on offense was Davis Bertans, who scored 10 points. Starters Reggie Bullock and Dwight Powell did not score, while another starter, Finney-Smith, finished with just eight points.
“We shot 38 percent, so we left a lot of points on the table,” Kidd said. “Yeah, we did leave some points on the table, but our defense has to be better.”
For the Mavs, the outcome was excruciatingly painful considered the way they jumped on the Suns early Tuesday after falling behind 9-0 in Games 1 and 2 in Phoenix. With Doncic scoring 11 points, Dallas led, 26-23, after the first quarter.
“I think the first quarter was great,” Doncic said. “We came out physical and we played defense, but then I think we relaxed.
“That wasn’t us. That wasn’t us. We’ve got to be way better than that.”
It was indeed a lost game for the Mavs, particularly in the third quarter when they did some unimaginable things that got them squarely behind the eight ball.
“I had four turnovers and they were all in the third. I’ve got to be better at making decisions. Whatever the game plan was, they stuck to it and you just got to give them credit.”
Although he knows it’ll be challenging, Doncic believes the Mavs will be back here on Sunday in a do-or-die game with a trip to the Western Conference Finals on the line. But first things first.
“We’re OK,” Doncic said. “We have all the confidence. We’re going to go back home. It’s always nice to play at home with our fans, and we have confidence.
“We’ve got to win two games in a row. It’s going to be really hard, especially against this team. But we’re going to believe.”
The Mavs are hanging onto that belief now that the Suns have to play them at AAC, where the Mavs won Games 3 and 4.
“We’ve got to contain them,” Brunson said. “They’re the No. 1 team in the league for a reason.
That 12-6 edge the Suns enjoyed on the offensive boards helped them outscore the Mavs in second-chance points, 14-2. Phoenix also outscored the Mavs in the paint by a 44-24 margin.
The Mavs are aware that all of those intangibles needs to be clean up by Game 6.
“Phoenix is the best team in the league,” Kidd said. “When you talk about the playoffs, it’s about protecting home.
“It’s hard to win on the road. So far both teams haven’t won on the road. They’ve held serve. Now the goal is to hold serve in Game 6.”