The Phoenix Suns have watched their 2-0 series lead over the Dallas Mavericks flip to a 2-2 tie in the Western Conference semifinals matchup.
The stalemate sets the stage for a pivotal Game 5 between the two sides. Phoenix still holds homecourt advantage but must come out of Tuesday’s battle with a victory to continue that trend.
It’s been a tough slog for Phoenix following two home victories in Games 1 and 2, recording 17 turnovers in back-to-back matchups in Dallas, both losses.
For center Deandre Ayton and the Suns, it’s about getting back to what worked earlier in the Dallas series and during the team’s first-round run against the New Orleans Pelicans.
“I got to get back to Game 1, period,” Ayton told reporters following shootaround on Tuesday. “I’ve been feeling like that, just got to get back to Game 1 and accept hard. We just got to accept the physicality, accept everything we did against NOLA. That’s why we’re here. Series is tied, it’s back to 0-0 to be honest. May the best team win.”
Getting a Game 1 performance from Ayton would go along way for the Suns. In the 121-114 win over the Mavericks, the center dropped 25 points on 12-of-20 shooting (60%) and grabbed eight rebounds. He also had a block over 33 minutes.
That showing came after Ayton averaged 20.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks over 35 minutes in the six-game series against the Pelicans. He posted a positive plus-minus in all but two games in the series.
After Game 1, however, Ayton shied away from his game scoring just nine points in Game 2 and combining for 30 points in Games 3 and 4.
In Game 2 he wasn’t a factor on the glass, grabbing just three total rebounds.
But above all else, both Ayton and Phoenix need to get back to playing physical with a purpose.
“Most definitely (physicality is at the top of the list), just making sure it’s contagious throughout the whole team,” Ayton said. “Just accepting it, not just out there being physical, out of character. Just accepting second efforts from your opponent and embracing it and trying to outplay them at the same time.
Like Phoenix Suns head coach and 2022 NBA coach of the Year Monty Williams says, “everything you want is on the other side of hard.”