On Thursday night, the Dallas Mavericks kept their season alive with a 113-86 rout of the Phoenix Suns to tie the second-round series 3-3 and force a winner-take-all Game 7.
Luka Doncic had an excellent night with 33 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, and four steals. In his 22nd career playoff game, Doncic tied Bob McAdoo for the third-fastest player to score 700 playoff points in NBA history. Only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain accomplished the feat faster, each in 20 games.
The trend continued: the home team won each of the first six games of the series with no final margin closer than seven points. The decisive Game 7 will be in Phoenix on Sunday.
The Mavericks won while facing elimination for the first time in three tries since drafting Doncic. The two losses came to the Clippers the last two seasons, including a first-round Game 7 loss in Los Angeles last season.
In franchise history, Dallas is 4-3 in Game 7s, but it has not won one since the 2006 second round against the San Antonio Spurs.
“I don’t know if he was playing as if he was trying to do something different,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said of Doncic. “I think he enjoys the moment. You guys have seen a little bit longer than I have up close. He’s not afraid of the stage. I think you guys call it the first time winning an elimination game. He’ll be in this situation a long, long time.”
After needing 11 shot attempts to score 11 points in the first quarter, Doncic was much more efficient the rest of the game.
The game was tight until the midway point of the second quarter. Doncic drew two fouls on the Suns’ Devin Booker in the span of two minutes, including an and-1. He then added a stepback three-pointer from the left wing to cap an 11-2 run that gave the Mavericks their first double-digit lead (52-41) with 2:48 remaining before halftime.
Dallas closed the second quarter on a 19-5 run to take their largest halftime lead of the series at 60-45. It was a reversal from Game 5 when Phoenix blew the game open with a 17-0 run in the third en route to winning by 30.
Doncic then gave the Mavericks their first 20-point lead (68-48) of the game with a layup a few minutes into the third, then had two dunks over three possessions to ignite the American Airlines Center crowd. He scored 10 points in the third quarter alone to push the Mavericks’ lead to 94-72 at the start of the fourth.
Dallas coasted through the fourth to secure the comfortable win.
The Mavericks’ offense was unrecognizable from the Game 5 blowout loss, playing at a faster pace with significantly better ball movement. After only having nine assists in all of Game 5, including a season-low-tying two assists for Doncic, Dallas had 18 assists in Game 6.
The ball movement helped the role players put forth a substantially better effort. Reggie Bullock (19 points) went 5-of-11 from three after going scoreless in Game 5. Jalen Brunson added 18 points, and Spencer Dinwiddie had his series high (15 points) all on three-pointers (5-of-7).
The Mavericks also took much better care of the ball. The team had 12 turnovers during the third quarter alone of the Game 5 loss but only had seven total on Thursday.
In contrast, the Suns turned the ball over 22 times in Game 6, which Dallas turned into 29 points. The Mavericks defense excelled, hampering the Suns’ All-Star guards all game. Booker, who had 28 points in Game 5, had 19 points on 6-of-17 shooting, including 0-of-4 from three. Chris Paul struggled for a third consecutive game in Dallas, finishing with 13 points.
Coach Kidd made an adjustment by moving Bullock to be the primary defender on Booker after he had primarily guarded Paul the first five games of the series.
The adjustment paid off, and the Suns were held to a season-low in scoring, regular season or playoffs, for the second time in the series. They made just 40% of their shot attempts, and the 22 turnovers were the most they have had in a game all season.
The memories of the 30-point Game 5 loss in Phoenix seemed to evaporate.
“I think we won this game on the defensive end,” Doncic said. “We’ve got another game. That’s fun. It’s playoffs, and we’re going to give our energy.”
Dallas will hope for a repeat performance in Game 7 to clinch their first Western Conference Final appearance since their championship-winning season in 2011.