PHOENIX – When Devin Booker entered the Verizon 5G Performance Center for practice on Saturday, the intensity reverberating through the building smacked him right across the face.
From “top to bottom,” he said, everyone inside the team’s practice facility was “locked in.” Even front office personnel peered intently through the windows, as Phoenix spent what coach Monty Williams called an “intense” day prepping for Sunday’s deciding Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals against the visiting Dallas Mavericks (8 ET, TNT).
“That’s how it’s supposed to be,” Booker said. “It shouldn’t be any other way.”
While the Suns welcome and embrace the extra pressure associated with the tall task ahead for Sunday, over in Dallas the Mavericks displayed a more relaxed vibe at their workout, despite history telling us home teams win Game 7s 76.8% of the time.
“If you look at last year, the Mavs played in a Game 7 in the first round (and lost to the LA Clippers),” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. “So, guys have participated in it. They understand what it means. So, we don’t have to explain what Game 7 means. I don’t think there’s any pressure. I think it’s basketball, and you’ve got to have fun with it. I think the team that’s closest to executing their gameplan wins the game. ”
Throughout the first six games of this slugfest of a series, that squad has always been the one playing on its home court. Turnover numbers also serve as a trusty indicator for how a team might do in this series.
For Phoenix, the statistics paint a striking picture of its losses.
In the Suns’ victories in Games 1, 2, and 5, they committed a combined 39 turnovers that Dallas turned into 48 points. The giveaways skyrocketed during losses in Games 3, 4 and 6. In those contests, the Mavericks converted 56 Suns turnovers into 73 points.
In Game 6 alone, Phoenix committed 22 turnovers, good for 29 Dallas points, which is the most the Suns have ever allowed off giveaways in a postseason outing.
“The talking points [at Saturday’s practice] are obviously the things we’ve got to do to be more efficient on both ends, ”Williams said. “Offensively, we’re not a turnover team. So, we have to look at why we’ve had all those turnovers. Then defensively, just sticking with the gameplan [is a point of emphasis]. Our gameplan was one thing in Game 5 and something totally different in Game 6 from an execution standpoint, and that’s something that we talk about – doing what we do – so that we can be effective on both ends. It was a lot of clean-up today, and then just being in the gym. It was a pretty high-energy, intense gym. That’s something we all expected. ”
Booker steps into Footprint Center for Sunday’s clash against the Mavericks with no prior Game 7 reps. Fellow starters Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges share in that inexperience, while veterans Chris Paul and Jae Crowder have played in a combined nine Game 7s.
Paul owns a record of 3-4 in Game 7s, while Crowder is 1-1.
“As you play six games straight into a series, you know exactly what they’re trying to do,” Crowder said. “So, it comes down to that man in front of you. But at the same time, you’ve got to control your emotions. ”
Booker said that Crowder and Paul relayed as much to the team on the plane ride back home from its Game 6 loss in Dallas.
“Our card table just had a little conversation over Game 7s,” Booker said. “There was nothing you could really tell me. Win or go home. We all understand that. I think Chris has been in six or seven [Game 7s]. So, they have the experience. But our team overall, we’re just ready to execute. We came in with a gameplan today. So, everybody’s gonna go home, think about it, and just be ready to execute it tomorrow. ”
Dallas won’t make that easy. Superstar point guard Luka Doncic owns the second-highest career scoring average in postseason history (32.5 points per game) behind Michael Jordan (33.4). The 23-year-old is averaging 32.2 points so far in this series.
While it’s one thing to slow down Doncic as a scorer, the Slovenian has proven to be a pounding headache for the Suns as a facilitator capable of coaxing out clutch shots from the supporting cast led by Jalen Brunson (22.8 ppg), Dorian Finney-Smith (12.2 ppg), Spencer Dinwiddie (11.8 ppg), Reggie Bullock (10.7 ppg) and Maxi Kleber (10.7 ppg).
Dallas is shooting 37.5% from 3-point range in the playoffs, while averaging the most made 3-pointers per game in the playoffs (15.3). The Mavericks are also surrendering just 10.2 turnovers per game in the postseason, which ranks as the second-fewest by any playoff team behind the Toronto Raptors (10.0).
Still, the Mavs haven’t won a game in Phoenix since 2019.
“These are the moments you live for,” Dinwiddie said. “Phoenix is the best team in the league in the regular season and obviously at home, [in] a hostile environment. But you know, they also say Game 7 typically goes to the best player. And I believe we have that in this series. It’s gonna be an exciting clash of styles. ”
Be sure to tune in and watch.
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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him herefind his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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