The Phoenix Suns looked like the juggernaut everybody was afraid of last night as they demolished the Dallas Mavericks, 129-109, to take a 2-0 lead in their second-round playoff series. Devin Booker looks completely recovered from the hamstring issue that bothered him in Round 1 and Chris Paul is doing Chris Paul things. As the saying goes, a series doesn't really start until somebody wins on the road, but Dallas looks hopelessly outmatched even as Luka Doncic averages 40 points, 7.5 assists, and 8.5 rebounds over the first two games.
Offense has never really been the issue with the Mavs in the Luka era, though. It's about the defense, the part of the game that doesn't quite show Doncic's generational talents. The Slovenian superstar entered the league a subpar defender at best and hasn't gotten much better over his three seasons. Yet Jason Kidd has unlocked a formula that morphed the Mavericks into a top-10 defense in his first season on the sideline that consists of switching everything and hiding Doncic on the least-threatening player on the floor.
It has worked to this point because the Mavs have a bunch of solid defenders around Doncic and the man himself is big enough to hang with larger wings without getting blown by immediately. Dallas also does a bunch of switching off the ball to make it hard for an opposing offense to immediately get Doncic on an island. If a team wants to pick on Doncic's defense, they'll have to be very patient and work hard to get the matchup they desire.
Unfortunately for Dallas, the Suns are exactly that type of team. They're patient and led by the greatest basketball mind to play point guard in league history. Phoenix has relentlessly and unerringly gone after Doncic for the first two games of this series-- and have enjoyed an obscene level of success as a result. Here is a brief thread from basketball guru Kirk Goldsberry explaining just that.
It's the worst possible matchup for Doncic. The Suns have two of the best isolation scorers in basketball. If Booker or Paul get Doncic alone, it's curtains. Even if he plays decent defense, as he did in the second clip when Paul hit a contested jumper in his eye.
Doncic is no longer an awful defender, but he can't be the engine that drives the Mavericks' offense while defending one-on-one for nearly every possession on defense. There's a very short list of players who can do that in the NBA and it's no shame to not be included. But it's a significant problem for Dallas because Paul will not rest during a possession until he gets the matchup he wants. Which, to this point, has always been Doncic.
The Mavs need to defend home court if they're to have any chance in this series. The first step towards accomplishing that is figuring out a way to stop Phoenix from isolating on Doncic time and time again. Because when they do, they post numbers akin to the greatest offense in NBA history. That isn't going to get it done.