The Dallas Mavericks were looking for the next big thing after Luka Doncic, but ended up with a net-negative in those dreams. Despite losing Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals to Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night, Jason Kidd says it’s not over yet and is happy about what he saw from his team.
PHOENIX, Ariz. — During Game 1 of the NBA playoffs, one of the most anticipated matchups of the second round, pitting Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Mikal Bridges against perennial MVP contender Luka Doncic, was a mismatch in favor of the Dallas Mavericks. It didn’t matter, however.
Despite Doncic’s 45 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists in the series opener against the top-seeded Phoenix Suns, the Mavs fell behind in the Western Conference semifinals with a 121-114 defeat at Footprint Center.
The Suns seldom used a second defender to attempt to take the ball away from Doncic. He did plenty of damage, hitting 15 of 30 shots from the field, including eight layups and two dunks, but the Mavs’ other playmakers were unable to establish a rhythm. The rest of the Mavs’ starters combined for just 39 points, marking the second time in Doncic’s 17 career postseason games that he has outscored the other four starters.
“When you look at the shots in the paint, behind the arc, and midrange, I think he gave his teammates some terrific opportunities that we typically have made,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. “I think he did a fantastic job.
“All we need now is for someone to join the celebration.”
Jalen Brunson, the Mavericks’ breakthrough player in the first-round series victory over the Utah Jazz, struggled with 16 points on 6-of-16 shooting. Dallas’ other offensive playmaker, sixth man Spencer Dinwiddie, was restricted to eight points on three-of-eight shooting.
“Anytime a player has 45, you look at that statistic and you don’t like it,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “But I look at their assist stats.” “There were just 16 of them. So [Maxi] Kleber hit a few threes, but nobody else was able to get going in the manner that they are capable of.”
The Suns were content to defend Doncic straight up, usually playing drop coverage in the pick-and-roll when lob threat Dwight Powell was on the floor and switching screens set by Kleber, who was the Mavs’ second-leading scorer with 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, Doncic had 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting with Bridges as the primary defender.
Doncic made all 30 of his field goal tries, including 4-of-11 from 3-point range.
“We simply have to attack the paint more,” said Doncic, whose career postseason scoring average of 33.4 points is tied for the most in NBA history with Michael Jordan. “I went with a bit too many step-backs for my liking. Our deadly weapon is attacking the paint. When we do that, we can easily score, particularly because we have 5-out and they have a lot of rotating. We need to go after more paint.”
Doncic, on the other hand, was more worried about Dallas’ defense, particularly in the first half. The Suns led by 13 points at halftime, shooting 63.6 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range.
Phoenix attacked Doncic defensively early and often. According to ESPN Stats & Info tracking, the Suns scored 24 points on 10-of-18 shooting when Doncic was the primary defender.
Doncic said, “I believe our defense cost us the game today.” “We got off to a bad start on defense, and we need to improve that. I’m certain that we can play much better defense.”
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