It’s the small things that decide games in the NBA. That has never been more true than in the Phoenix Suns’ 101-98 loss to the Dallas Mavericks tonight. Eric Bledsoe misses a free throw with a chance to tie the game at 99. Gerald Green comes up just short on a baseline jumper with a chance to take the lead. Bledsoe’s fingertips are the last to touch the ball as it flies out of bounds with 25 seconds left. Each one of these is just a single play in a single game. Had even one of them gone the Suns’ way, the outcome of this game might have been different. But what’s done is done. The Mavericks are back in the playoffs, and Phoenix longer controls its own destiny.
The Suns have only one path to the playoffs now. They have to finish with more wins than Memphis. While this is a daunting scenario that requires Phoenix to depend on other teams, the playoffs are still a possibility. Kevin Zimmerman breaks down the scenarios here.
The Suns’ road to the postseason looked much smoother at halftime in Dallas. Phoenix held an 11-point lead after two quarters thanks to Channing Frye’s five triples and the team shooting 60% from the floor. Despite the fact that they committed 10 turnovers and gave up seven offensive boards to the Mavs in the first half, the Suns were dominating nearly every phase of the game. Defensively, they held Dirk Nowitzki to just two points and his team to just 42% from the floor. Eric Bledsoe put up 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting, and Phoenix had already rung up 13 fast break points.
But as has happened so many times this year, Phoenix faltered coming out of halftime. For the second night in a row, their 3-point defense completely collapsed. The Mavericks took advantage hitting five triples in the third quarter and whittling the double-digit down to just three points heading into the final frame. At that point, the writing was on the wall. The Mavericks had all the momentum and a raucous crowd on their side. Though the Suns hung tough in the fourth, and had shots to tie and take the lead late, Dallas – carried by Monta Ellis and Dirk – would not be denied. Ellis finished the game with 37 points (15-23 FG, 3-4 3pt) and five assists, while Dirk had 23 points and eight rebounds. In the first half, Monta drove and scored at will because the Suns had gone small and had no rim protection. When the Suns shifted their defense and closed off the paint, Monta got Dirk going from deep. It was the best game I’ve seen Monta Ellis play in seven years. He picked a hell of a time for it.
For the second night in a row, Phoenix raced out to an early lead only to watch it slowly and painfully evaporate. I don’t think any of the Suns will vacation in Texas anytime soon. For more on tonight’s game, let’s answer our three preview questions.
What will Goran Dragic contribute?
There’s no denying the fact that Dragic’s ankle was bothering him in this game. His footwork was off when he drove to the basket which prevented him from finishing at the rim the way he normally does. His jumper seemed to come up shorter and shorter as the game wore on. Though the Dragon played 41 valiant minutes and made plenty of the gutsy plays we are accustomed to seeing from him, he was definitely not at 100% and it cost the Suns. Goran finished the night with just 13 points on 6-of-18 shots to go along with five boards and four assists. Despite being hobbled, Dragic did an excellent job defending Jose Calderon and Devin Harris, holding the pair to just 3 points combined on the night.
The Suns were carried in this game by his Eric Bledsoe. After a near triple-double last night against the Spurs, Bledsoe put up 29 points in Dallas on 11-of-15 shooting. He also grabbed four boards, dished out six assists, and had four steals. The only hole in his line was his seven turnovers, which helped the Mavericks stay in the game when the Suns were shooting the lights out early. The Suns will hope Bledsoe can stay hot and Dragic can get healthy by the time the Grizzlies come to town on Monday.
Can Phoenix avoid a letdown quarter?
The Suns’ defensive rotation and shooting both fell apart in the third quarter. After hitting at a 60% clip early on, Phoenix fell to just 42% coming out of halftime. Their offensive movement stagnated, and they settled for too many bad shots. Defensively, they were so concerned with keeping the Mavericks out of the paint that they left Dallas’ shooters wide open at the three point line. Dallas recorded just two points in the paint, but scored 15 from downtown while shooting 62% from the field and beyond the arc. The Suns poor performance in the third was their downfall in this game.
Who wins the battle beyond the arc?
Channing Frye hit his first five threes of the game, and the Suns looked like they would walk to a win in this battle. But the Mavericks adjusted their game plan in the second half, and began zipping the ball around the perimeter. The Suns got lost on rotations and were soft on their close outs, yielding entirely too many open shots from downtown. In the end, the Mavericks hit 11-of-24 from deep while the Suns managed only 8-of-17. The Suns’ advantage in this game was always going to be their perimeter defense, but it was nowhere to be found after halftime, and Dallas took full advantage.