Paul and Booker both looked like the stars they are in the fourth quarter, but Bridges played a key role in the margins
Game 2 of Phoenix Suns vs. Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Semifinals certainly didn’t have the flashiest stat line we’ve seen from Mikal Bridges — “just” 11 points (5-6), 3 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals — but the Suns’ effectiveness in the first three quarters was predicated on the effectiveness of Bridges.
Right from the tip, Bridges set the tone with an aggressive first three possessions; he made a contested floater, a contested catch-and-shoot hit from deep, as well as his first assist of the night to a downhill Ayton. Here are those three possessions, unedited for your viewing pleasure:
The solid defense on Doncic in that final defensive possession included in the clip would also be indicative of how effective Bridges would be in game 2. Per tracking data on NBA.com, he held Doncic to just 7 points and 2 turnovers in 7:36 spent defending him. That’s a solid improvement from game 1 where Doncic had 10 points and 4 assists in the 7:06 guarded by Bridges.
Additionally, Bridges did a great job of utilizing his length to affect the game, like getting the full use of his 8-foot-4 standing reach to pluck this Doncic pass out of the air that resulted in the patented CP3 rip-through on the other end:
He also showed how helpful that length is on the offensive end, where he’s just barely able to get this transition bucket thanks to those noodle arms.
We also saw quite a bit more playmaking from Bridges than we normally do. Per StatMuse, this is just the tenth time in his career that he’s tallied 6 assists (now seven games with 6, one game with 7, and two games with 8).
Both of the passes I’ll show also do a great job of utilizing length; it’s tough to get the ball around defenders, but Bridges is able to find angles that most others simply can’t, like during this two-man game with Biyombo:
As well as this one, which is even more difficult:
In the first half of game 2, the star guards struggled. Paul and Booker combined for 17 points and 5 assists in the first half, which is considerably below normal for them, believe it or not. In the regular season, their averages in the first half:
- Paul: 6.3 points, 5.9 assists
- Booker: 13.7 points, 2.4 assists
…for a combined 20 points and 8.3 assists.
When the game’s going that direction, Phoenix is desperate for additional release valves to show themselves, which makes the 7 points and 4 assists in the first half from Bridges so crucial.
If he can continue to be that for this team going deeper into the playoffs, there’s no telling how effective they can be in their push for a title.