Luka Doncic has scored 80 points combined across the Dallas Mavericks’ first two games against the Phoenix Suns but his team haven’t really come close to tasting victory.
Doncic is averaging just a point for every minute spent on court and he is of course the fulcrum of his team’s offense, facilitating for everyone else as always. Problem is, none of his team-mates have showed up to give the backing needed to trouble a Phoenix team who put together the NBA’s best record in the regular season.
In fact, Mavericks coach Jason Kidd has admitted as much after both games so far, and is hoping for better ahead of Game 3, back at American Airlines Center, live on Sky Sports Arena & Main Event at 2.30am late on Friday night.
“He (Doncic) had a great game, but no one else showed,” Kidd said after a 129-109 loss in Game 2, sounding about the same as he did two nights earlier following a series-opening 121-114 loss in Phoenix. “We can’t win with just him out there scoring 30 a night.”
“We’ve got to do a better job of helping him. They’re bringing him up into everything. We knew that coming into the series. We knew that in the last series [against Utah]. We did a better job of protecting one another, not just Luka. We’ve got to get back to protecting one another for Game 3 back at home.”
The Mavericks were close in the fourth quarter of Game 2 before Paul sparked a 23-2 run with the Suns leading by six. He had 14 of his 28 points in the fourth. Booker had consecutive 3-pointers during the run and scored 30.
“We have guys that definitely can guard these guys,” said Dallas guard Reggie Bullock, one of the defense-first players assigned that task. “But it’s going to take a team effort to be able to contain them.”
Jalen Brunson averaged 27.8 points in the first-round win over Utah, when Doncic missed the first three games with a left calf strain. Brunson is averaging 11 points on 9-for-28 shooting against the Suns and has almost as many fouls (eight) as baskets (nine). Spencer Dinwiddie, the centerpiece of the trade which saw Kristaps Porzingis depart Dallas, has also disappointed in the first two games, connecting on just 6-of-18 shots over the first two games of this series for just 19 points. The duo has combined to average 20.5 points in the Western Conference semifinals after averaging 43.1 points in the opening round.
In the Game 1 loss, Doncic burned the Suns to become the youngest player since Kobe Bryant in 2001 to put up 45 points with at least 10 rebounds in a postseason outing. He outscored the team’s other four starters by six points. Then Doncic poured in 35 points in Game 2 with just two other Mavs – Bullock and Dinwiddie – joining him as double-figure scorers in the defeat.
“The mood is fine,” Doncic said after his team slipped into a 2-0 hole on Wednesday against the Phoenix Suns, who captured their 11th consecutive victory (regular season and playoffs) over the Mavs. “I think [for] a lot of players [it’s] the first time in this situation. We believe, man. They’ve got to win four. So, it’s not over yet. We’ve got to go back home. Our crowd is amazing. So, we’re gonna believe to the end.”
By comparison, Phoenix’s entire starting five finished Game 1 with at least 10 points. Four of the five starters accomplishing the feat again in Game 2, paced by Devin Booker and Chris Paul’s combined 58 points, not to mention the team’s blistering 40-point fourth quarter. Booker ran the show in the third quarter of Game 2 before Paul took over in the final frame. Pretty much the entire game, the Suns mercilessly hunted Doncic, making sure to bring the Dallas point guard into most of their actions on offense.
Doncic, who scored 45 and 35 points respectively in the first two games, looked tired with the Suns repeatedly attacking him on screens, particularly in the fourth quarter when they shot 84 per cent.
“He should be tired,” Kidd said. “He played his heart out. He’s tired every night. He plays hard. We’ve got to get other guys involved to help him. Right now it’s just been him.”
The Mavericks have a series record of 2-10 all-time when beginning a playoff series at an 0-2 deficit. Barring a rally and resurgence the season, which has shown real promise at times, could be over soon if they cannot find a way to get better production from their superstar point guard’s supporting cast.
“We’ve got to get other guys involved to help him,” said Kidd. “Right now, it’s just been him. So, we’ve got to get Brunson and Spencer going and [Dorian Finney-Smith].”
Phoenix certainly doesn’t make that goal easy with its size and suffocating defense. Doncic already works overtime to carry the load offensively for Dallas. Then when he’s on defense, the Suns continue to throw a variety looks Doncic’s way to make him work harder.
The idea is to wear out the three-time All-Star guard, and the tactic appears to be working in the Suns’ favour.
“Well, he’s testing us,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. “He’s trying to orchestrate on the offensive end as well. We’re just trying to win the game. We feel like we have guys that can be put in certain positions, but within what we do. We don’t want to just pull a guy in a pick-and-roll just to go iso with 18 seconds on the clock. We want to make teams work over and over. Over the course of the game, we feel like that serves us well. If we can strategically put guys in a set so that we can be efficient, we’ll do it.”
Suns @ Mavericks – live on Sky Sports Arena, 2.30am overnight
Key notes: The Suns have shot at least 50 per cent in all eight playoff games, with the 64.5 per cent in Game 2 against Dallas the highest yet. Paul is shooting a mind-numbing 67 per cent inside the 3-point line. The defensive turnaround for the Mavericks has been one of the biggest stories of Kidd’s first season. They were second to Boston in fewest points allowed in the regular season and kept it up while beating the Jazz in six games. Not so much in this series.
Key an eye on: Dallas guard Spencer Dinwiddie had some of his best games when Doncic was out during the regular season. His production is way off in the postseason. There were signs of life in Game 2, when he scored 10 of his 11 points to help Dallas take a 60-58 halftime lead. But he got just one shot, and missed it, in the fourth quarter.
Injury watch: Dallas F Maxi Kleber played 28 minutes and scored nine points in Game 2 after taking a nasty fall on his back, shoulders and neck in the series opener. The Mavericks have said he came through OK, but his effectiveness will bear watching after he acknowledged being sore.
Pressure is on: Mavericks G-F Dorian Finney-Smith needs to stay out of foul trouble. He’s among the most important defenders and was limited to 20 minutes after picking up three fouls in the first quarter.
Thank you to the Associated Press and NBA.com for contributing to this report.