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Breaking down how Jason Kidd’s small-ball approach has the team on the verge of advancing to the conference finals.
This doesn’t look like the same 64-win Suns who cruised past the rest of the league in the regular season.
Phoenix has dropped three of the last four as Dallas evened the second-round series at three games apiece on Thursday night. Now facing a Game 7, one of the league’s most efficient offenses has slowed to a crawl. The Mavs, meanwhile, have found a winning formula, with an upset on Sunday afternoon certainly in play.
We didn’t expect such dramatics from this matchup just a week ago. The Suns cruised out to a 2–0 lead behind a combined 58 points from Chris Paul and Devin Booker in Game 2, making the end of Dallas’s playoff road look imminent. The script has since flipped. Booker finished 6-for-16 from the field and 0-for-4 from three in Game 6. Paul has tallied 25 points over the last three games. Dallas has bottled a previously lethal attack, with its success stemming from more than simple shot luck.
Such smothering defense was largely unthinkable for the Mavericks this time last year. Dallas finished 20th in defensive rating last season, surrendering 126 points in a Game 7 loss to the Clippers in a first-round matchup. The arrival of Jason Kidd changed matters. He and his staff coaxed Dallas into a top-10 defense in his first season as coach, and following the departure of Kristaps Porzingis, the Mavericks truly found their stride.
This small-ball approach is paying dividends on the other end, a credit to Dallas’s front office. Many assumed the trade of Porzingis was a prudent long-term move from the Mavericks, one that would likely still damper their Finals hopes. That hasn’t been the case. Dwight Powell is now the only true rim runner in the rotation, and every non-Powell lineup pairs Luka Dončić with a quartet of spacers or secondary ball-handlers. Jalen Brunson is cruising to the rim seemingly at will, and Dallas isn’t wasting possessions on needless post-ups or contested pick-and-pop threes. This is a supporting cast now fully complementary of its superstar’s strengths. Such harmony could be enough to overcome any assumed talent disparity between these two rosters.
Yet despite the home court advantage, one can’t help but wonder if we’re headed toward a potential upset to close out the weekend. The Mavericks are getting to the rim and creating open triples at will. They’re shutting down Phoenix’s talented backcourt. They’ve found a winning rotation, and if you haven’t noticed, they have the best player in the series by a marked margin. As Game 7 approaches, we should heed Kidd’s words from seven months ago regarding his franchise star.
“What [Dončić] can do when the lights are brightest isn’t normal,” Kidd said. “It’s special.”
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