If one believes in developments, it appears doubtless that the Phoenix Suns will win Sunday’s do-or-die Game 7 in opposition to the Dallas Mavericks of their Western Conference semifinal collection.
After all, the house staff has gained each recreation of this playoff collection.
But it wasn’t supposed to return to this for Phoenix. Not for the staff that had the perfect regular-season document within the N.B.A. by far, and particularly not after the Suns dominated their first two video games in opposition to a Dallas staff with restricted playmaking exterior of its star, Luka Doncic.
On Thursday night time, the Suns had an opportunity to ship the Mavericks house for the summer time, solely to put an egg. Dallas acquired scorching from 3-point vary, taking pictures 16 for 39 (41 %), whereas Doncic bullied his technique to the rim for simple dunks. Doncic additionally repeatedly backed down and overpowered the smaller Suns level guard Chris Paul in a matchup Dallas had been keen to use your complete collection. Doncic ended the sport with 33 factors, 11 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 steals.
“I don’t have enough time to talk about everything that’s eating at me,” Suns Coach Monty Williams informed reporters after the sport. “I didn’t think we understood the desperation they were going to play with.”
This has not been a typical seven-game collection. It hasn’t been a slugfest with stars from each groups exchanging clutch baskets. None of the contests have been significantly aggressive or come right down to the ultimate minutes. The solely constants have been chippiness and trash discuss.
But there are precedents for a playoff collection like this. In 2008, the No. 1-seeded Boston Celtics confronted the No. 8-seeded Atlanta Hawks within the first spherical. Boston gained the primary two video games at house in blowouts, however Atlanta repeatedly and unexpectedly held serve at house. The Celtics gained Game 7 by 34 factors. An identical trajectory formed Boston’s subsequent collection, in opposition to the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, however these video games had been extra aggressive. Boston would go on to win the N.B.A. championship.
But precedent is not any assure, and the Suns might definitely be on their technique to an embarrassing second-round exit after final yr’s run to the N.B.A. finals. Last yr, the Bucks and Nets traded house wins for six video games within the second spherical, then the Bucks gained the finale on the highway. One extra off recreation from Paul, or a scorching recreation from a Mavericks function participant, and the Suns could possibly be proven the door.
If the Mavericks win, they may have dethroned a Suns staff that gained a franchise-record 64 video games, together with an 18-game win streak. That sort of success is uncommon and troublesome to repeat. For one factor, Paul, a 12-time All-Star, is 37 years outdated. He continues to be elite as some extent guard and led the league in assists per recreation. But the checklist of gamers who excelled at age 38 is small, populated by generational gamers like Karl Malone, John Stockton, Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Paul is a generational participant, too, however this has not been a very sturdy postseason collection for him, significantly after Games 1 and a pair of. Since then, he’s been dogged by foul bother, had problem defending Doncic, and has solely dished out six assists a recreation for the collection after averaging 10.8 per recreation through the common season.
Not having a championship is a outstanding gap in Paul’s illustrious résumé. He is 3-4 in Game 7s, not together with the 2018 Western Conference finals in opposition to the Golden State Warriors, when he missed the ultimate recreation due to damage as a member of the Houston Rockets.
The Suns would even be at a crossroad with the 23-year-old Deandre Ayton, who is among the finest facilities within the league and set to enter restricted free company. Phoenix didn't provide him a most contract provide earlier than the season, and an early playoff exit might damage his probabilities of getting one now.
But the Suns have the sting getting into Sunday’s recreation in Phoenix. They had the N.B.A.’s finest house document at 32-9. They’re examined, having made the finals final yr and with the skilled Paul on the reins. They’ve proven that they'll face up to Doncic, who in his third playoff run and has torched the Suns, averaging 32.2 factors, 9.8 rebounds and seven.5 assists by six video games. Doncic has confronted elimination 3 times in his brief playoff profession — together with on Thursday — and he’s come up massive every time, although in defeat. In a first-round Game 7 got here in opposition to the Los Angeles Clippers final yr, he scored 46 factors within the loss. In 2020, he had 38 factors in a Game 6 loss to the Clippers.
The Suns have gained three video games regardless of not with the ability to guard Doncic.
But what they might not be capable of face up to are their very own turnovers, which have bedeviled the Suns on the highway. In Game 3, Paul and Devin Booker mixed for 12 of them, greater than the Mavericks. In Game 4, Booker had 5. Paul had two, however performed solely 23 minutes due to foul bother. During Thursday’s Game 6, Booker had eight, Paul had 5 and the Mavericks mixed for simply six.
The Mavericks’ technique to beat Phoenix has been comparatively easy: Match up Doncic in opposition to Paul, or unfold the ground and have Doncic or his backcourt companion, Jalen Brunson, drive and discover shooters. It has principally labored. Role gamers like Maxi Kleber have typically come by by hitting 3s.
One adjustment the Suns can counter with is stacking the paint with defenders to encourage Doncic to shoot 3s. He’s a below-average 3-point shooter, at simply 29.6 % for the collection. And if he will get to the paint, the Suns want to shut out on shooters to disrupt their rhythms. In Game 5, Phoenix’s finest defensive efficiency of the collection, Dallas shot 8 for 32 from 3-point vary, a dismal 25 %.
Outside of Game 5, the Suns have been constantly unhealthy on protection and solely sometimes have they been capable of overcome that with sturdy offense. It has typically seemed as if the Suns had been speeding their offense — uncommon for a Paul-led machine.
“Best thing about all these playoff games is you don’t carry a 20-point lead into the next game,” Paul stated Thursday. “You know what I mean? Each game has a personality of its own and now it’s down to one game.”