The Phoenix Suns have been here before.
This is the fourth series out of six total since the Suns postseason renaissance began last year that they have been knotted up at two games apiece heading into a pivotal Game 5.
In three out of those four previous series, the Suns have won Game 5 and found a way to win the series; the lone exception was last year's NBA Finals where Giannis was simply too much for the Suns to handle and overwhelmed the Suns en route to a Bucks championship. This Mavericks team has Luka, who has dominated the series in a Giannis-esque way, despite our warnings to the Suns earlier.
So how do the Suns avoid a repeat of the Bucks collapse and figure out a way to survive and advance for the second straight series?
I see three big adjustments that need to happen:
1. Chris Paul is Chris Paul.
- Chris Paul needs to be on the floor and not terrible. That's the first and perhaps only adjustment the Suns need to make. In Game 3, Chris Paul celebrated his birthday with 7 turnovers, setting the tone for a sloppy Suns loss. In Game 4, CP3 was more concerned with baiting the Mavs than leading the Suns. In Game 5, Chris Paul needs to be the Point god. Paul doesn't need to be perfect like he was in Game 6 against the Pelicans, he just needs to be competent. Making things worse for the Suns in recent games that Paul has not been himself has been the play of Cam Payne. Payne is 1-9 from the field in his last two games and simply can't be counted on in big moments for the Suns as he was last year. Cam Payne might cost the Suns a ring but for now, Chris Paul could prevent the Suns from advancing if he doesn't play like Chris Paul.
2. Deandre Ayton needs to play big.
- The ongoing saga of Deandre Ayton continues. Half the Suns fan base believes he's woefully underused, often ignored offensively and yearn for an inside out style of offense; the other half believes he's a soft, inconsistent player who can't be trusted to deliver when he's needed most. The truth is almost always in the middle. Ayton is a superstar role player. On the scale of brute force bigs and finesse bigs, he's closer to finesse but can occasionally go hard. In this series, I don't need Ayton to be the best player on the Suns, I just need him to play like a seven footer. He's been passive on the boards, unable to establish position offensively and too comfortable hanging out on the perimeter defensively. If the Suns want to move one, Ayton has to remember he's the biggest dude on the court.
3. Mikal Bridges should not defend Luka
- In the Pelicans series, Monty Williams waited two games longer than he should've to play two bigs on the floor and then the Suns took control of the series. In this series, Monty Williams is making a similar mistake. Instead of tasking Mikal Bridges, the Suns best defensive player, to defend Luka Doncic, he should be telling him to stay away. I'd much rather have Bridges snuffing out any of Luka's teammates offensive pilot lights than trying to prevent Luka from getting 40. There isn't a defender in the NBA who can lock up Luka over a seven game series. Not only is Bridges failing defensively, its impacting his offense. He had just six points in Game 3. Moving Bridges off Doncic not only helps the Suns efforts to make it a one man band for the Mavericks offense, it should Mikal up to flourish offensively. Let's hope Monty makes this adjustment before its too late.