The Dallas Mavericks received two standout performances from Luka Doncic in the first two games of their Western Conference Semifinals matchup against the Phoenix Suns. Unfortunately, no one else showed up for the Mavs in either game, and they ended up in a quick 2-0 hole.
Game 3 felt like a must-win for Dallas considering the circumstances, and they knew they would have to make some significant changes to win. And that’s precisely what they did. Rather than having Doncic shoulder the burden of the entire offense, the Mavericks spread the ball around on offense, getting everyone involved, and turned in a suffocating defensive effort that allowed them to get their first win of the series. Dallas’ head coach Jason Kidd summed it up quite well in the aftermath of the game:
“Everybody joined the party. They helped out on both ends. Luka was great defensively. He participated, too. It puts us in a different position when that happens.”
The Mavs finally helped out Doncic in Game 3
After Doncic averaged 40 points in the first two games of the series, he didn’t have to do nearly as much work in Game 3, mainly due to Jalen Brunson finally showing up after struggling early in the series. Brunson shot 10-21 from the field and picked up 28 points, which was more than he had in the first two games combined.
“I just wanted (Brunson) to be aggressive,” Kidd said. “We talked before the game -- just be yourself. I thought this was the first time he was aggressive. He didn’t wait. He wasn’t surveying.”
Brunson’s contribution was sorely needed, and Doncic seemed more than willing to let someone else step up and lead the offense for stretches of the game. For example, Maxi Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Randy Bullock all had double-digit scoring efforts, and Doncic’s 26-point performance was enough to put Phoenix away this time around.
Doncic’s teammates also helped him out on the defensive side of the ball, where he had been cooked at the expense of Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Doncic didn’t play nearly as much on-ball defense as before, with Finney-Smith and Bullock stepping up to defend Paul and Booker. The two guards, who had complete control of the series beforehand, combined for only 30 points while turning the ball over 12 times. Luka even mocked Chris Paul on the court thinking he flopped big time on one play in which Doncic received an offensive foul.
Is the Mavs’ play in Game 3 sustainable?
After the initial two contests of the series, it was clear that Dallas had to do something different with the series shifting home for them. And that change in play resulted in the team-wide effort that we saw last night. But will they be able to keep that up for the rest of the series?
In truth, it’s going to be tough, in part because of how good Paul and Booker are. They struggled in Game 3, but that’s probably about as bad as they will play throughout this series. Jason Kidd was ahead of Phoenix last night, but he will have to continue to mix things up if he wants to keep them off balance.
That means running zone defenses, trapping Paul and Booker with double teams, and sometimes even running Doncic off the ball on offense. These things worked in Game 3, but Phoenix will prepare for it heading into Game 4 now, and chances are they won’t let these things confound them in the same way it did last night.
Ultimately, a lot of this will fall on Doncic’s shoulders. When games are tight in the fourth quarter, will he try to take over himself or keep his team involved? Doncic is good enough to take games over on his own, but as the first two games of the series showed, that won’t lead to wins against the Suns. If Doncic continues to buy into the team-first mentality that led Dallas to a Game 3 win, they will have a shot, but if not, Phoenix should be able to bounce back and comfortably win this series.