Phoenix – The Phoenix Suns returned to their transitional roots on Tuesday in their 110-80 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in Game Five of the Western Conference semifinals, as Devin Booker racked up 28 points for the team, serving as the catalyst for a terrible third quarter that ultimately decided the outcome.
League history tells us that the winners of Game Five of a Best of Seven series advance to the next round 80% of the time.
The Suns are now 20-20 all-time in Game 5s in the NBA Playoffs, and they are 10-2 all-time in a best of seven streak after leading 3-2.
“It was the defense tonight,” said Suns coach Monty Williams. “When we stop like that, and are able to come out with a transition, it gets us going, it excites our crowd, and I firmly believe the defense travels. It’s the only thing you can do in any gym.”
We’ll see once advice for Game Six on Thursday at the American Airlines Center (9:30 ET, ESPN).
Here are five notes from Phoenix’s Game 5 win in which the Suns avoided three losses in a row for what would have been the first time in all of 2021-22.
1. Perfect Phoenix in the third quarter
After defeats in Game 3 and 4, Williams battled the urge to exaggerate the Game 5 tweaks. He admitted that the idea was “something that’s been on my mind since I got on the plane and left Dallas.” But this year’s 2021-22 NBA Coach of the Year resisted, in fact cutting back on potential modifications rather than adding more.
“Sometimes simplicity is best, at least to start,” Williams said. “How do we make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do before we change and adapt? During the game, you’re going to make some adjustments. But we’re thinking about more basic defensive concepts. We’re fighting this impulse to adapt too much.”
Phoenix relied on the trio of Michael Bridges, Jay Crowder and Chris Paul early on as primary defenders on the ball against Dallas star guard Luka Doncic, and made all three Game 5 a physical affair. Doncic seemed unimpressed at first, scoring 18 points on a 7 of 16 shot in the first half without any turnovers. But the 23-year-old was unable to engage the rest of the Mavericks (two passes) in the first half, and that moved into the crucial third quarter.
Dallas will commit 12 turnovers in his disastrous third spell, while the Suns have accumulated 18 points from those flushes. What’s important to note here is that the Mavericks entered Tuesday’s game with an average of the 2022 playoffs – their best 9.7 turnovers in the post-season. No other team has turned in less than 10 times per game this season.
In the first half, Phoenix led 49-46. But the gates opened during the third quarter from 33-14 as the Suns forced six turnovers from Dallas key players (Doncic and Jalen Brunson). The last team to make 12 spins in a single quarter of a postseason game was the New York Knicks in the second quarter of a 100-67 loss on April 28, 2012 against the Miami Heat.
“They were all aggressive, we didn’t play smart in the third quarter either offensively or defensively,” Doncic said. “The Suns did a great job defensively by keeping us fixed on the perimeter. For that, we will give them credit.”
Dallas had 16 turnovers in Game 5, leading to 24 points from Phoenix. The Mavericks only made a total of nine passes in 27 made baskets, which is certainly not a recipe for success. It was the first time an NBA team had fewer than 10 assists in a playoff game since 2016 (Charlotte Hornets in Miami). Meanwhile, Doncic finished with the fewest assists (2) in his post-season career.
2. “Chris and Cook are coming”
That’s the warning Mavericks coach Jason Kidd gave his team in the lead-up to Game Five because he knew Paul wouldn’t struggle in three straight games. Additionally, Booker was out of a 35-point performance in Game 4 as the series returned to Phoenix.
“We know what’s going to happen,” Kidd said 90 minutes before the tip-off. “So, we have to understand that there is no [room to] Feel your way into the game. They will attack, and we have to be prepared for that. We’ve talked about it as a team.”
Listen Dallas. But executing on the road against a pair of hungry superstars with their backs against the wall presents a more difficult challenge.
While Paul finished with just seven points, he spent 10 cents and played a key role in Deandre Ayton as he collected his best performance since the first game of the series (we’ll get to that later). In the process, Paul tied Steve Nash for third place in 10 games in NBA game history (54). Paul is now only tracking Magic Johnson (143) and John Stockton (100) on their post-Season 10 outings.
Paul expressed his relief that Phoenix is finally returning to its transitional roots. The veteran also scored one steals, leading him to tie with Derek Fisher for 15th on the all-time NBA post-season steals list with 272.
“I think that would do a lot for us because in order to go out in a transitional period, that means we stopped on the defensive side,” Paul said. “In games 3 and 4, I think it bothered us a lot because we hung our hat all season on the defensive end. It only shrinks when you don’t make teams miss. You kind of hope he misses them. So, we just wanted to try to be better on the defensive side tonight.” We let everything take care of itself.”
– Phoenix Suns May 11, 2022
Poker deserves big credit, too. The star shooting guard put up 12 points in the crucial third quarter, shot 3 of 5 from a 3-point range, as well as racked up a pair of steals. Poker is now averaging 26.8 points per game in this series, shooting 50% from depth and 87.5% from the free throw line. A three-time Booker star, he has now scored 804 points in 30 playoffs.
Booker and Charles Barkley are the only ones to have scored 800 points in their first 30 playoff games. The 25-year-old is also one of only 18 players in NBA history to have scored at least 800 points in his first 30 playoff games. Joining Anthony Davis, Donovan Mitchell, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and Allen Iverson, who have all accomplished this feat since 2000.
“We like to have breakpoints, to go out with a transition because we have a lot of athletes, a lot of people who can put in performances for each other,” Booker said. “It’s kind of [an] Everyone makes a play against each other, the best shot available.”
3. Doncic on the big stage
Doncic tied Booker for the highest scoring level (28 points), but finished with only two passes and four turnovers in a Mavericks loss.
But don’t expect the fourth-year guard to wilt and shy on Thursday in Game 6 at the American Airlines Center. We all know Doncic lights up when the lights are brightest, and the stakes are higher.
“I pretty much think his young career was always on the way when you look at starting in European basketball and being so young, getting away from home and playing in Spain,” Kidd explained. “merely [him] Understand his surroundings against the whole team. He doesn’t mind it. He did it here. He’s not afraid of the stage at 23. I saw him in the Olympics, I saw him in the qualifiers this year and I saw him in the qualifiers last year. This is a good trait that we must possess.”
4. iTunes gets his wish
Deandre Ayton expressed his desire to “return to Game 1, period” during Tuesday’s shooting session. Eaton scored 25 points to make eight rebounds on 20 shots to start the series. He put in 20 shots in just two of his eleven knockout matches in 2021-22.
“I just have to go back to Game 1 and accept the ‘hard.’ We just have to accept the physique,” Eaton said.
Dominion is making his presence felt there. 💪💪 pic.twitter.com/ZU7HEnBEI6
– Phoenix Suns May 11, 2022
The center scored 20 points in a 9-of-13 rebound in Game 5, with eight points coming in the crucial third quarter, as the team finished with nine high rebounds with two passes. The performance marked iTunes’ 14th game with 20 points or more.
5. Some history about Phoenix
Phoenix limited the Mavericks to just 80 points in Game 5, marking only the sixth time in franchise history that the Suns have carried an opponent to 80 points or less in a post-season outing. If you don’t know, the Suns are 6-0 in those games.
Phoenix’s 30-point win was only the fifth time in postseason history that he had won a game by this margin or more.
Booker, the seven-year-old veteran who is only playing in his second season, said he’s always ready for these moments, even when they seem out of reach.
“Even on those seasons where we couldn’t, I just sat there, took that rage to the gym and just imagined myself in those situations,” Booker said. “Imagination is a big part of this. So, I had to use some imagination playing play-offs in my training sessions. I think it works a little bit, but we have room to grow.”
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