After dropping two games on the road, the Dallas Mavericks tied their second-round series against the Phoenix Suns with a 111-101 victory on Sunday. The Mavs were scorching to start Game 4, shooting 8-for-13 from deep in the first quarter, and they led by as many as 17 points before halftime.
Luka Doncic shot just 1-for-10 from deep, but finished with 26 points, seven rebounds, 11 assists and four steals in 37 minutes. Dallas forward Dorian Finney-Smith shot 8-for-12 from 3-point range and scored 24 points. Reserves Spencer Dinwiddie, Maxi Kleber and Davis Bertans scored a combined 33 points and shot 7-for-13 from deep.
Chris Paul followed up his uncharacteristically sloppy Game 3, in which he turned the ball over seven times, with another strange performance. This time, he was undone by fouls. Paul picked up his fourth foul near the halftime buzzer, his fifth with 9:32 left in the third quarter and his sixth with about nine minutes remaining in the fourth. He logged only 23 minutes, finishing with five points on 2-for-4 shooting, plus seven assists, five rebounds and two turnovers.
Dallas turned up the defensive pressure on Devin Booker with Paul out of the game, but Booker still managed to score 35 points on good efficiency. Booker shot 10 for 22 from the field and 12-for-13 from the free-throw line and dished seven assists in 43 minutes.
Here are three takeaways from Game 4.
1. Maverick math
The Mavs (38-for-85) shot slightly worse than the Suns (39-for-84) did from the field, but were in control for virtually the entire game and won by double digits. This is because, yet again, they had an enormous advantage from behind the arc.
This is a classic "math problem" series, and Dallas came into this game having averaged 40 3-point attempts in the first three games to Phoenix's 27 attempts. The disparity was even more pronounced on Sunday, though -- The Mavs shot 20-for-44 from deep, the Suns 9-for-25.
In the halfcourt, Dallas repeatedly collapsed the Suns' defense and found shooters open on the perimeter. It took some contested ones in the third quarter against Phoenix's zone, but, for the most part, this was about getting downhill off of pick-and-rolls, isolations or post-ups and kicking it out. Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said that they aren't aiming for a specific number of 3s, but they "truly believe" that, when the ball touches the paint, good things are bound to happen.
"The big thing is just we're trying to apply pressure," Kidd said. "We're trying to get the ball in the paint and not just settle. 'Cause they're a really good defensive team if you just swing it around the 3-point line, you run up against the clock and you take a tough 3."
Kidd was pleased that Finney-Smith didn't hesitate when the ball found him.
"When he's playing like that, when he's aggressive and not thinking about the shot and just catch-and-shoot, he's as good as anyone," Kidd said. "We needed that lift and he picked us up."
"We gotta respect Finney-Smith more than we have," Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. "He's affecting the game on the offensive glass and now he's shooting the ball well. We have to respect that."
Doncic may have been cold from deep himself, but he created five of Finney-Smith's 3-point makes. The Mavs shot 8-for-15 on 3s off Doncic's passes. Booker said that the Suns need to "stay in front of our man, don't give him no angle, don't let him get in our point and just make it tough on him."
"This is something that I have to fix as a coach," Williams said. "We have to get guys off the line, we have to recognize -- Luka was 1-for-10, you have to recognize that and try to keep him from just getting to the paint, maybe force him to shoot a shot. We were helping to keep him out of the paint and then there were times when you get mesmerized with him dribbling the ball and he fires a perfect pass for a 3."
2. A not-so-well-oiled machine
When the Suns are at their best, they look like they have an answer for everything. The spacing is impeccable, the playmakers are unselfish and everything happens at their pace. Phoenix is a hyper-efficient, low-turnover, low-foul team that excels at making shots that most defenses are designed to surrender.
Defensively, too, the Suns sometimes seem flawless. They can size up or size down, they can defend the pick-and-roll multiple ways and they don't give their opponents many easy buckets in transition.
In Game 4, though, Phoenix didn't look like that team, at least not consistently. The most glaring issue was Paul's fouls -- some of which were questionable calls, most of which were silly risks on his part -- and the resulting time spent without its floor general. But that was far from the only one. Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder had to play through foul trouble, too, and Williams lamented the Suns' 17 turnovers, which led to 23 Mavericks points.
"It's something that has hurt us," Williams said. "I don't think we were as organized tonight. A bit rushed."
Phoenix had 27 assists on its 39 shots, but Williams felt that number should have been in the 30s. "I don't think we trusted the pass enough," he said, given that it should be able to collapse Dallas' defense.
Williams said that the struggles on defense were "about personal ownership right now" -- Phoenix needs to be better at containing the ball, so it doesn't have to help as much. He also repeatedly stressed that the Suns needed to be more aware of Dallas' shooters away from the ball, adding that it is "a recipe for disaster" to give up as many middle drives as they did.
"I thought our first-half defense was about as bad as it's been all year as far as recognizing the shooters," he said. "Second-half defense, you can see it wasn't that bad. We just weren't that great on offense."
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3. Balanced Mavericks
Kidd said that "everybody joined the party" after Dallas' Game 3 win, in which Jalen Brunson led the team in scoring and Finney-Smith, Reggie Bullock and Maxi Kleber all scored at least 14 points. In Game 4, six Mavs scored in double figures and Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie had four assists apiece.
"They're at the party," Kidd said. "I think you know one of the big things that we talked about on this journey is that we understand Luka's talent and how good he is, but for us to be a team, there's going to be times when other guys are going to have to make shots. They're going to take the ball out of Luka's hands. And you saw that this afternoon."
Brunson was not as awesome as he was on Friday, but he finished with 18 points on 7-for-17 shooting and made a couple of timely plays when Doncic got a brief rest in the second half. Dallas led by just six points when Doncic went to the bench with about two minutes left in the third quarter, and when he checked back in early in the fourth, the lead was up to nine.
Game 5 is Tuesday in Phoenix.