After losing the first two Conference Semifinals games, the Dallas Mavericks rebounded with a 103-94 win over the Phoenix Suns in Dallas on Friday night.
The win cuts Dallas’ series deficit to 2-1 in the Western Conference Semifinals and snaps their 11-game losing streak against Phoenix.
Luka Doncic had 26 points, 13 rebounds, and 9 assists; one assist shy of his fourth career playoff triple-double. Doncic finally had teammates join the scoring party, as Jalen Brunson scored 28 points to lead five Mavericks who scored in double-digits.
However, it was the Dallas defense that was the most significant difference. The Mavericks’ defensive intensity made life difficult for Phoenix from the opening tip. Dallas tipped several passes and forced Suns’ All-Star guard Chris Paul into six turnovers in the first 16 minutes of the game.
Paul would have seven turnovers at the half, the most he has ever had in one half of a playoff game in his 17-year career. In contrast, the Mavericks had just one turnover before halftime, as they took a 51-44 lead into the break.
After allowing over 120 points in each of the first two games of the series, Dallas held Phoenix to 94 points, their lowest scoring total of the season. The Suns had a 44.4% shooting percentage, ending their run of shooting at least 50% in all eight of their previous playoff games.
“Energy, man,” Doncic said of the Dallas defensive effort. “The crowd gets you going. The energy and the execution were better. That’s what we’ve got to do every game.”
Paul finished with just 12 points for Phoenix after scoring 14 in the fourth quarter of Game 2. Jae Crowder led the Suns with 19 points, while Devin Booker had 18 points but made just 2-of-7 non-three-point attempts. DeAndre Ayton added 16 points and 12 rebounds.
“It wasn’t like us,” Booker said. “You can credit them. They came out, played hard, played desperate. That’s that. We’ve got a series.”
The Mavericks also showed a renewed effort on the offensive end from the opening tip. After giving up nine unanswered points to start games 1 and 2, Dallas took their most significant lead of the series at 29-20 to end the first quarter.
Doncic had 7 points, seven rebounds, and five assists at the end of the opening quarter. However, Brunson’s first-quarter performance foreshadowed this game would not go the same as the first two in the series. After scoring nine points in Game 2, Brunson had ten points in quarter one alone.
Through three quarters, Brunson had 24 points, more than the 22 he scored in Games 1 and 2 combined. He made 10-of-21 shot attempts and added five assists and four rebounds.
“It was awful. Ugh, it was real terrible,” Brunson said of his performances in the first two games of the series. “I found a way to bounce back tonight, but I just can’t be satisfied with this. Sunday’s going to be another brutal game. I have to bring the same energy, the same intensity, the same everything.”
For the first time in the series, Doncic did not outscore the other four Mavericks starters combined. Reggie Bullock scored 15 points, while Dorian Finney-Smith added 14; each had four three-pointers. Maxi Kleber came off the bench to score 14.
Doncic had to overcome foul trouble in the second half. He drew his fourth foul with 5:14 left in the third quarter, forcing him to the bench earlier than his usual rotation of playing the entire quarter.
Dallas led by 16 (71-55) when Doncic went to the bench; they maintained a 15-point lead (82-67) at the start of the fourth.
Then Doncic drew his fifth foul with 8:07 remaining in the fourth and the Mavericks leading 90-73. He was forced to the bench again, furious that the coaching staff did not challenge the foul call.
“I didn’t think those were fouls,” Doncic said. “I mean, it’s playoffs. It’s a physical game. The fifth foul, whew. I don’t know the last time somebody called a fifth foul like that.”
Nonetheless, Dallas did not let the lead slip away and still had a double-digit lead (95-84) when Doncic returned to the court with 4:39 remaining.
The Suns cut the lead to eight points (99-91) after a Paul three-pointer and layup from Mikal Bridges, but then Bullock hit the decisive shot on a corner three-pointer with about a minute remaining to extend the lead back to double-digits.
The Mavericks will hope to replicate their performance again for Sunday afternoon’s Conference Semifinals Game 4.