How the Phoenix Suns are going Back in Time to Beat Dallas Mavericks

Phoenix Suns (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The Phoenix Suns are on the verge of finishing off a pesky Dallas Mavericks squad with the series heading back to the Lone Star state for Game 6. The Suns last beat the Mavericks in the playoffs in 2005, when league MVP Steve Nash led the Suns past Dallas and his close friend Dirk Nowitzki in six games.

Then-Dallas coach Avery Johnson turned the pass-first Nash into a scorer that series. Johnson’s strategy produced mixed results (Nash scored 48 points in Game 4 – but Dallas won the game) but it created a template for the Suns to follow 17 years later: make the other team’s best player score all the points while taking all the “others” out of the game entirely.

Today’s Suns must rely on the “no others” strategy to finish off Dallas. They must expect their defense will be the deciding factor in this series. Their offense has not traveled to Dallas yet in this series, only averaging 97.5 points per game when the series moves away from the Footprint Center.

That would be the NBA’s worst scoring team this season by a long shot! The 2005 Suns averaged 117.5 points per game against Dallas in that series. That’s a 20 point difference!

There is no guarantee the offense will suddenly come alive in a hostile environment. Do not expect the Phoenix offense to suddenly appear in Dallas.

The Suns cannot assume they will play well enough to win every single playoff game. They have to  think negatively by focusing on making their opponents lose. They can at least thereby win the game by attrition if both teams end up struggling to score points.

This negative approach comes from legendary college basketball coach Bobby Knight. Knight once wrote a book titled, “The Power of Negative Thinking” that explained his successful approach. He always looked at what one factor could beat his team. Then he did everything possible to prevent that from affecting the game.

Perhaps inspired by Knight’s book, the Suns thought very negatively in Game 5. But what exactly did the Suns do to make Dallas lose?

The Phoenix Suns forced Dallas to take twos instead of threes in Game 5

Three points are worth more than two. It is why Dallas takes so many of them, as do most other NBA teams (the Suns are the exception to the rule, tied for 28th in total 3-point attempts per game). Basic math says it makes more sense to take 3-pointers if you can make at least a third of them.

The more 3-pointers Dallas takes off the catch, the more likely the Suns will lose. Overall 3-point attempts for Dallas is the most important statistic to monitor in Game 6. Volume, not efficiency, is ultimately what matters to Dallas.

The worst-case scenario for the Suns is that Dallas takes over 40 triples and outscores them if they even get hot from deep. That is what happened in Game 4.

The Suns finally made the right adjustment in Game 5: run Dallas off the three-point line. Dallas was a ghastly 8-32 from 3-point range in the blowout loss. By comparison, they shot at least 39 3-pointers in the first four games of the series.

How Dallas is getting their 3-pointers matters as well. In this series, Dallas has shot 41.7 percent from 3-point range on catch-and-shoot situations. That number plummets to 30.8 percent if they are forced to take a 3-pointer off the dribble.

Running Dallas off the 3-point line means preventing these catch-and-shoot opportunities from happening. Over-helping driving lanes is the biggest factor in creating these shots off the catch. The Suns should therefore deny all the passing lanes to shooters instead of cutting off the driving lanes available.

Help defense is not going to be helpful against Dallas either. The Mavs only scored 80 points in Game 5. Luka Doncic and Jalen Brunson combined for 49 of those 80 points.

This trend needs to continue for the Suns. They need to force Dallas to rely solely on Doncic and Brunson to score all their points via layups and midrange shots. No Dallas player should be allowed to get an open 3-pointer under any circumstances whatsoever.

This type of Suns defensive possession needs to happen every single time. Look at how Cameron Johnson is pressuring the ball while Mikal Bridges is denying the nearest passing lane.

Phoenix needs to avoid the temptation of over-helping off Doncic and Brunson. The key is to deny all passing lanes to the perimeter. Dallas runs a five-out offense so Doncic and Brunson will get a handful of layups off the dribble.

Deandre Ayton may get in foul trouble, but that’s a whole lot better than giving up open threes. Besides, the Suns have Jav\Vale McGee and Bismack Biyombo ready to come off the bench to spell Ayton if needed.

dark. Next. More Deja Vu for the Suns?

Make Luka score his 30 points as inefficiently as possible. Brunson can get 20 as long as he takes at least 15 shots to get there. Luka scored 45 points in Game 1 but the Suns still won. Just like Nash scored 48 points in 2005 – yet Dallas won.

All the Suns need to do in Game 6 is to make Dallas lose the game. And that all starts on defense.