The Dallas Mavericks find themselves in a tough position heading into Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Phoenix Suns, trailing the series 2-0. While Game 1 was much closer, the Mavs ultimately struggled to stay in Wednesday’s contest, losing by 20 points after getting outscored 71-49 in the second half.
Heading back home, however, the Mavs will have some confidence they can fight their way back into this series. Here are 3 ways Dallas can do so.
3 ways the Mavs can get back in series vs. Suns
3. Contain Chris Paul
This is a tough ask because Chris Paul does so much for the Suns, from playmaking to scoring. The veteran absolutely cooked the Mavs in the fourth quarter in Game 2, scoring 14 of his 28 points in that period alone. To be frank, as great as Luka Doncic is, he is lackluster defensively. The guard doesn’t have the quickness or athleticism to keep up with a player like CP3 who can put his opponent on skates with his shiftiness and ridiculous handles.
That being said, the Mavs need to make a point of trying to slow him down, especially late in games. Jason Kidd should be putting Jalen Brunson and/or Spencer Dinwiddie on the Suns star instead because they’re at least quicker on their feet. Paul is arguably the best point guard on the planet and he will continue to kill them from mid-range if Dallas doesn’t make an adjustment. Double-teaming him is an option although it would open up other shooters. Nevertheless, the Mavs must try something because CP3 is just thriving right now.
2. Jalen Brunson needs to find his stroke
Brunson balled out in the first round against the Jazz, averaging over 28 points per game. Without Doncic, he was an absolute star and emerged as the primary option for the Mavs. Now that Luka is back, Brunson is obviously not getting the same usage as before. However, he still has the opportunities to flourish, but it’s not happening. The ex-Villanova standout has collected just 22 points through the first two games of the second round while shooting a putrid 9 for 28.
Brunson is simply struggling. Sure, the Suns are a much better defensive team than the Jazz, that’s a no-brainer. Nonetheless, Brunson isn’t hitting those same tough shots he did in the conference quarterfinals. He looks extremely out of sync right now and the only way for the Mavs to claw their way back into this series is by Brunson stepping up and delivering. He’s still getting decent looks at the hoop, too. They’re just not landing. Brunson is a gamer and he should bounce back. But it must happen sooner rather than later.
1. Mavs interior defense must improve
The Mavs’ clear strength is Luka and their three-point shooting. When it comes to interior defense, Dallas is rather poor. That weakness has been exposed so far, getting outrebounded 51-36 in Game 1 then 34-25 in Game 2. Kidd’s group did a much better job of being physical on Wednesday, especially with Deandre Ayton, who played just 18 minutes after getting into early foul trouble. But, they’re still being dominated on the boards and outplayed offensively down low. Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber might have length. However, the Suns athleticism is proving to be far too much for them, outscoring the Mavs by 18 points in Game 2 inside.
Dallas can shoot the ball 42% from downtown. It won’t matter if they can’t stop Phoenix from having their way in the paint. Ayton cooked the Mavs in Game 1 and he’s been in his bag all postseason. He is the main figure Dallas must stop around the cup.
Not done yet
Luka and the Mavericks are by no means done yet. The group needs to come together though and make these adjustments in a hurry. It really doesn’t matter how well Doncic plays if his supporting cast doesn’t step up, either. To put it into perspective, he is the only player to post 20+ points through the first two contests. Dinwiddie, Brunson, and Dorian Finney-Smith are non-existent. The Slovenian can only do so much. Against a fundamentally sound team like the Suns, it will take a team effort to give them a run for their money.