Somers: Suns play dangerous game by thinking a Game 7 victory over Mavericks is a given

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DALLAS — The Suns played like believers Thursday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, as if they apparently believe a Game 7 victory over the Mavericks Sunday in Phoenix is assured.

What’s the opposite of ruthless? Gentle?

That’s how the Suns played in Game 6. It’s why they were blown out 113-86 at American Airlines Center. It’s why the series is now tied at three. It’s why even if the Suns win Game 7, the Mavericks exposed vulnerabilities and raised questions about the Suns as a championship contender.

"I didn't think we understood the desperation they were going to play with," Suns coach Monty Williams said. "Couple that with the turnovers we had tonight (22), it's a recipe for what we just got."

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It's been a familiar refrain for Williams this postseason. He used it after one game in the Pelicans series, and earlier in this one. It's a display of great sportsmanship to compliment the effort of an opponent, but it sometimes brings yours into question.

And everything about the way the Suns played Thursday night was questionable.

Immensely successful on the road during the regular season, the Suns lost all three games here in much the same way. They were careless with the ball, sloppy on offense and too often passing on defense.

Of the 22 turnovers, 16 were steals, and the Mavericks turned those mistakes into 29 points.

"We were about as unorganized tonight on offense as we've ever been," Williams said. "That was one of the reasons we threw it around the gym tonight. We just did not have the focus and determination it takes to win a game like this on the road."

The Suns couldn’t make a shot. Their execution was so off that twice after meeting to draw up a play, all they could muster were long, contested 3-point attempts.

What was unique in Game 6, however, was it looked as if the Suns didn’t have their hearts in it, like they lost their passion for closing out the series the minute they left Phoenix airspace after a 30-point victory Tuesday night at Footprint Center.

Now, for the first time in two years, they face a Game 7. "Greatest two words in sports," said guard Devin Booker.

Having the NBA's best record gives the Suns home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, but it's a surprise they will need it this early.

"We understand they're a good team," Booker said of the Mavericks. "They're the fourth seed in the Western Conference for a reason. We worked all season to have home-court advantage and get the last game at our house, and that's exciting. I've never been in a Game 7, so it's going to be fun."

Maybe for him. For Suns fans screaming at their televisions and on Twitter, who have waited decades to celebrate a championship, it's as much fun as having a polyp removed.

It’s a very dangerous game the Suns are playing, counting so much on winning Game 7 at home. Too many things can happen. The Mavericks are too good. They have a superstar in Luka Doncic. They can get hot from 3-point range. And they’ve embraced how coach Jason Kidd framed this series: The pressure is all on the Suns and not on the Mavericks, who are young and growing together.

May 12, 2022; Dallas, Texas; USA; Suns guard Chris Paul (3) contests a shot from Mavericks Jalen Brunson (13) during game 6 of the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Breen-Arizona Republic
May 12, 2022; Dallas, Texas; USA; Suns guard Chris Paul (3) contests a shot from Mavericks Jalen Brunson (13) during game 6 of the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Breen-Arizona Republic

Among Suns fans, there was a hope, or a belief, that Booker and Chris Paul would reprise their roles in closing out opponents on the road in the sixth game of a playoff series. One, or both, did that last season against the Lakers and Clippers and against the Pelicans this year.

There were no heroics Thursday night, just failure.

Booker scored eight points in the first quarter and finished with 19. He committed eight turnovers. Paul hasn’t been much of a factor in the series, and especially so in the three games here. He scored 13 points, but that wasn't the main sign that highlighted his lack of production. It was the five turnovers and four assists.

"That's not like us," Booker said. "We just have to not be so careless with the ball."

When Booker and Paul aren't playing well, others follow. Deandre Ayton had 21 points and 11 rebounds, but they were hollow. The bench contributed just 17 points.

Defensively, the Suns were just as bad. The Mavericks made 16 of 39 three pointers. The Suns shot just 18 of them and were 39.7 percent from the field overall.

The game looked a lot like the Suns' losses in Games 3 and 4 here.

"We've seen that movie before," Paul said.

All is not doom and gloom, of course. Both teams have played well at home. Neither has looked good on the road. A sellout crowd at Footprint Center will only help the Suns. They have two days off for the first time in this series, which has followed an every-other-day schedule.

That should help Paul, who has looked worn down against the Mavericks. At one point Thursday, it appeared that Paul might have suffered an injury to his right hand. He insisted he is fine, although he likely wouldn't admit if he were not, and is looking forward to extra rest before Game 7.

"Trust me, we'll take the extra day," he said.

Williams said the Suns need to feel this loss for a day or two, to let it sting, and then to let it go.

We've heard that before, too, and it suggests something is missing from the Suns in the playoffs. On a night when the Suns needed to be ruthless, they were passive and content, perhaps believing at least subconsciously there is no way they can lose a Game 7 at home.

It could turn out to be their biggest mistake of the season.

Reach Kent Somers at Kent.Somers@gannett.com. Follow him on twitter @kentsomers.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Suns go gently into Dallas night for the third time in the playoffs.