Mavericks moment of truth: After Chris Paul’s Suns pick Luka Doncic, what can Dallas do in Game 3?

Somehow the Dallas Mavericks‘ The latest loss was something new. During the second half on Wednesday, Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns pushed a fundamental element of modern basketball to the extreme. It was a bit like when Stephen Curry torched Madison Square Garden from beyond the arc for 54 points, but, instead of chasing 3s, the Suns chased persistently and ruthlessly Luka Doncic.

Doncic had split the team that didn’t pick him first overall, and then, on virtually every possession, Phoenix went after him. Time and time again Paul asked the Doncic man to place a pick, and again and again that action created an advantage and the advantage led to a bucket. The Suns put him in 19 second-half ball screens and scored 1.81 points per chance on those possessions, by ESPN and Second Spectrum.

In another way, the Mavericks loss was the same old story. Just like Game 1, and just like many of their playoff losses to the Los Angeles Clippers in 2020 and 2021, Dallas scored enough points to win, but couldn’t get the saves it needed. It was yet another defeat in which Doncic was extraordinary at the start and exhausted at the end.

These are precisely the problems the Mavericks tried to solve. With a new front office led by Nico Harrison and a new coaching staff led by Jason Kidd, they signed Reggie Bullockauthorized Jalen Brunsonabandoned Kristaps Porzingisacquired Spencer Dinwiddie and finished the season with the fourth-best record in the West and the seventh-best defense in the NBA. Without Doncic at the start of the first round, Dallas took a 2-1 lead against the Utah Jazz.

Friday’s Game 3 is a moment of truth for the Mavericks, and not just because they’re down 2-0. Did the moves they made place them in a significantly different place? Is Phoenix such a juggernaut that Dallas could be both vastly improved and completely overtaken? Those are the big, wide questions, but, until the announcement, none are as pressing as this: Assuming the Suns target Doncic again, what can the Mavericks do differently?

Five thoughts:

1. Reduce Luka’s Charge

The reason Phoenix sued Doncic isn’t that he can’t protect anyone; that’s because he probably can’t do it all in attack against elite competition for heavy minutes less than two weeks after returning from a calf injury and hold on defensively. According to the Suns Jae Crowderthe team discussed the fact that Doncic played 44 minutes in the first game.

“If he’s going to be there that long, obviously we think we need to work him even harder,” Crowder said after Game 2.

Doncic has a record 38.8% usage rate in the playoffs, compared to 36.8% in the regular season. It was 45% in the first half of Game 2. He would still have played over 40 minutes if he had fallen to the wire.

If the goal is to keep Doncic fresh, Dallas can either play him fewer minutes in the first half or get him off the ball more often. Either way, that means handing some of his playmaking responsibility to Brunson and Dinwiddie. When he was on the field with Doncic in the playoffs, Brunson had a 23.2% usage rate, Dinwiddie a miniscule 12.5%.

Kidd said Wednesday the Mavericks needed to start Dinwiddie and Brunson because “we can’t win with just [Doncic] there scoring 30 a night, not at this time of year, and we’re up against the best team in the league.”

Which brings us to…

2. Take your time

Dallas was the slowest team in the NBA after picking up a defensive rebound this season, by unpredictable, with an average of 10.9 seconds passing before he tries to shoot. He was even slower (12.1 seconds) in the playoffs.

Playing at a snail’s pace suits Doncic, and it’s counterintuitive to suggest the Mavericks should step things up in order to help him. keep energy. It is exhausting, however, to face a stopped defense every time, especially if Mikal Bridges is draped all over you.

Yes, running is tiring. But Doncic doesn’t need to have his foot on the accelerator. For a role model, Dallas can look to their opponent – ​​Phoenix also depended on their half-court offense last season, but, en route to the Finals, it encouraged Paul to throw assists to free himself from the pressure of the whole pitch, and he didn’t stop doing it. Given that Kidd’s coaching staff wants Brunson and Dinwiddie to find their groove, might as well try to find opportunities for them to attack the Suns while they’re still on their heels.

3. Spin, spin, spin

Let’s say Kidd deletes Dwight Powell from the starting lineup, in order to give the Mavs more spacing and avoid a third consecutive early deficit. Should he insert Maxi Kleber Or do something more drastic?

The Mavs went on a run late in Game 1 without a traditional big man on the court, but didn’t return to that small-ball look until there were eight minutes left in the fourth quarter on Wednesday. Would Kidd dare put Dinwiddie in the starting five and start Dorian Finney Smith at the “center”, corresponding to Deandre Ayton?

Kleber is the safest bet, but there are arguments to get weird, especially if Dallas gets desperate. If you can’t win conventionally, you should try to mess things up, and having three playmakers on the field makes it easier to avoid attacking Bridges. The Mavs won’t be able to replicate what they did to the Jazz’s poor perimeter defenders, but they can try to get closer. The only obvious advantage they have is 3 point volume, and being small accentuates that.

4. A few diet tips

Kidd said Dallas knew the Suns would bring Doncic to the ball screens, and he had to “do a better job of helping him.” Part of that is likely the pre-switch, a strategy he used sparingly in Game 2. When the video embedded above was last played, when Doncic’s man, Cameron Johnson, goes up screen for Booker, Doncic and Powell put the ball out, keeping Doncic out of action. Sure, Doncic finds himself in another action moments later, but that’s at least one example of the Mavericks trying to protect him.

Another example: Midway through the fourth quarter, when Johnson screens Paul, Doncic just doesn’t budge – he’s pre-switching with Brunson, but the communication isn’t there and Brunson only realizes where he is. is supposed to be as the screen is being adjusted:

The Mavs didn’t get punished that time, but if they want to do it, they need to tighten it up.

Dallas could go in a zone, but they didn’t do much in the regular season and that’s a risky strategy against Phoenix, a smart team that cuts, passes and shoots as well as anyone. There’s probably no scheme the Suns can’t counter – Paul and Booker exploit switches, destroy chutes cover and host blitzes. The best “adjustment” the Mavs can make is to execute better, which is why it’s important that Doncic still has energy in the fourth quarter.

5. Choose Paul

Since Paul is the one who did most of the Doncic hunting, the Mavericks could give him a taste of his own medicine. They probably won’t be as relentless as the Suns, but they could definitely put Paul in more defensive action, in an effort to wear him down before his usual fourth-quarter takeover.

Paul is a master of game control offensively. He’ll sense the opposing team, get his teammates forward, and call his own number exactly when Phoenix needs it. He cannot, however, control the amount of energy he has to exert on the other end. For his 37th birthday on Friday, Dallas could offer him a steady stream of post-up Doncic.

Leave a Comment