PHOENIX — Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd has delivered a similar message after both games so far in the Western Conference semifinals: Luka Doncic needs a lot more help against the top-seeded Phoenix Suns.
Dallas wasted another brilliant offensive performance by Doncic in Wednesday’s Game 2, when he scored 35 points on 13-of-22 shooting in a 129-109 loss as the Suns seized a 2-0 series lead. The Suns repeatedly targeted Doncic defensively while scorching the Mavs for 71 points in the second half.
“He had a great game, but no one else showed,” Kidd said. “We’ve got to get other guys shooting the ball better. We can’t win with just him out there scoring 30 a night — not at this time of the year. And we’re playing the best team in the league, so we’ve got to get other guys going.”
Kidd specifically mentioned that the Mavs need much more production from guards Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie, who have combined for only 41 points on 32.6% shooting in the two losses at the Footprint Center. It’s an especially stark contrast to the previous series for Brunson, who starred in the first-round victory over the Utah Jazz, averaging 27.8 points in the six-game series.
Chris Paul and Devin Booker, the Suns’ All-Star guard, dominated Wednesday night in part by relentlessly hunting Doncic. That was particularly the case in the second half, when Booker scored 21 of his 30 points and Paul scored 20 of his 28.
“Tough matchup to guard,” Booker said of Doncic, “but he’s going to have to guard a bit.”
According to Second Spectrum tracking, Doncic was the screener defender on 19 on-ball screens in the second half, which is the third most in any half in his career. The Suns averaged 1.81 points per chance on those possessions. That is the highest efficiency allowed by a single defender involved in at least 15 direct picks over the past three seasons.
“I’ve just got to play better defense,” Doncic said. “That’s it.”
The Suns blew the game open in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, stretching their lead from six to 15 as Paul took over the game, exploding for 14 points and two assists during that span. Paul exploited Doncic on switches for a pair of layups and a pull-up jumper, as well as finding Cameron Johnson for a 3-pointer, during the deciding 21-7 run.
“We need to do a better job of helping him,” Kidd said of the Suns’ targeting Doncic. “They’re bringing him up into everything. We knew that coming into the series. We knew that in the last series. We did a better job of protecting one another, not just Luka. We’ve got to get back to protecting one another for Game 3 back at home.”
It was a historically efficient offensive performance by Booker, Paul and the Suns. Phoenix set a franchise playoff record by shooting 64.5% from the floor, including 84.2% in the fourth quarter. The Suns had a 75.7% true shooting percentage. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that ranks second all time in a playoff game, trailing only the LA Clippers‘ 77.8% in a Game 5 win over the Mavericks in the 2020 first round.
Paul, who also had eight assists, was especially masterful. He went 11-of-16 from the floor, including 9-of-10 in the second half. Booker went 11-of-19 from the floor and 5-of-8 from 3-point range, with all of his 3s coming after halftime.
“When you look at CP and Book, they took turns,” Kidd said. “One took the third quarter, the next one took the fourth quarter, and we had no answers. … They got the shots that they wanted. CP got to his spots and he made layups and made jump shots. Book made 3s. They’re really good. They understand the situation. They’ve seen it all. We’ve just got to be better.”
The Mavs, who are playing in the second round for the first time since the franchise’s 2011 championship run, will search for solutions as they fly home to Dallas on Thursday.
“A lot of players, it’s the first time in this situation,” Doncic said. “We believe, man. They’ve got to win four, so it’s not over yet.”