The Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns enter Game 7. Luka Doncic and the Mavericks won 113-86 at home in Game 6 on Thursday night to take the second-round series 3-3. Dallas never looked back after leading by 15 at the half and hitting 16 3-pointers in a one-sided win.
Doncic led all scorers with 33 points with 11 rebounds and 8 assists. Reggie Bullock and Jalen Brunson assisted the Mavericks and scored 37 points together. The Suns, who won by 30 points in Game 5, struggled again on the road. Chris Paul had just 13 points on seven field goal attempts. Devin Booker had 19 points but made all four 3-pointers. Game 7 is scheduled for Sunday in Phoenix. The home team has won every game in the series, and the Suns will continue that trend, reaching the Western Conference finals for the second year in a row. Meanwhile, the Mavs are looking for their first Finals berth since 2011. Here are the key takeaways from Game 6.
Saving his best for last
Cue up those Undertaker gifs ladies and gentlemen because Luka Doncic simply will not die. The fourth-year superstar is already building one of the greatest playoff resumes in NBA history. He has now played in 22 postseason games… and scored 30 or more points in 13 of them. But when his back is truly against the wall? That’s when Doncic truly shines.
The Mavericks have made the playoffs three times in Doncic’s career, and Thursday was Doncic’s third knockout game. He lost the first two, but not for lack of trying. Doncic scored 38 points in the Mavericks’ Game 6 loss to the Clippers in 2020, up from 46 points in a Game 7 loss a year ago. Combined with his 33 points, Doncic averaged a staggering 39 points per game in the playoffs. LeBron James and Alex Groza are tied for second…with “only” 33.5 points per game.
The first two elimination games Doncic played came against two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard. Tonight’s came against Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Mikal Bridges. I wish I could tell you there was some strategic tick here, some subtle change in his playing style that makes Doncic especially lethal in season-saving games… but so far as I can tell, there isn’t. He’s just so unbelievably good that when he no longer sees any need to pace himself, he’s completely and utterly unstoppable to even the NBA’s best defenses. If Leonard and Bridges can’t stop him, nobody can. We’re looking at decades of this to come.
A defensive masterpiece
. That’s tied for the second-fewest of the Monty Williams era. The Suns also committed 22 turnovers. That’s tied for the third-most of the Monty Williams era. Two near milestones in the same game. Now, in fairness, the Suns do not rely exclusively on 3’s as many other teams do. They’re the best mid-range shooting team in the NBA, and those shots were still available to them in this game (though, just like everything else, they’ve been difficult to come by against a relentless Dallas defense).
But at a certain point, math comes into play. The Mavericks limited the total number of shots Phoenix could take with all of those turnovers, and then among the shots they did give up, Dallas took away the most valuable ones a team can make. There wasn’t some grand sacrifice either such as we’ve seen in the Celtics-Bucks series in which Milwaukee has sacrificed endless 3-point attempts to protect the basket. The Suns tallied just 44 points in the paint in Game 6, far below their regular-season average of 49.8. Dallas played good defense everywhere. They played great defense where it counts. The result was a blowout.
Setting the stage for Game 7
When LeBron James was in his fourth season, he toppled a No. 1 seed with Finals experience to make his own debut trip to the NBA’s biggest stage. Doncic is still more than a round away, but it’s hard not to notice the parallels here. The Suns, like the 2007 Pistons, were viewed as near locks to win this series. But by the grace of Doncic, the Mavericks have a genuine chance to topple a team that won 12 more games than they did in the regular season, and with Golden State looking less than flawless against an injured Grizzlies team, there is a genuine path to the Finals forming for Dallas.
Doncic doesn’t need a fourth-year trip to the Finals to prove his greatness. We all hope it gets there eventually, and often does. But he’s judged on a different scale than most players, or even most All-Stars. We’re talking about a young man with a chance to become one of the greatest players in NBA history. Such players usually defy our wildest expectations. No one would have expected LeBron to reach the Finals in his fourth season. Doncic, as great as he is, is not yet LeBron… A milestone like this would be a huge asset for him if he wants to fight for that legacy.
But ultimately, if it takes Doncic another year or two, nobody is going to bat an eyelash. The stakes are significantly more immediate for Phoenix. Chris Paul is 37. This probably isn’t his last rodeo, but he’s not far from the end. He’s averaging 9.3 points, 6.3 assists and 4.5 turnovers over his past four games. He might be hurt or he might just be old, but chances like this are rare. Paul, who has never won a championship, knows this well. He has home-court advantage in Game 7 and throughout the playoffs. There’s no guarantee that will be the case next season. His best chance to win a title is right now.
Then there’s Deandre Ayton, a player Phoenix drafted through Doncic in 2018. He has attempted unsuccessfully to negotiate a maximum contract extension this past offseason and is now earmarked for limited offseason free time. When the Suns won 64 games, he went to great lengths to secure the contract. He continued to improve his defense in last year’s Finals, and as a shooter, he preferred to punish smaller formations. But Dallas has suffocated him on this front, and even if it’s not his fault, the optics of losing to a player Phoenix should have drafted will forever hang over Ayton’s head. Restricted free agents are far more likely to stay, but if Ayton wants to be seen as a cornerstone in Phoenix, Game 7 could be his last chance to prove he deserves it.
This isn’t the Finals. There isn’t quite a championship on the line yet. But as far as second-round Game 7’s go, it would be hard to ask for much more in the way of both immediate and historic stakes. Both sides have far more than a season on the line here.
Well, that didn’t exactly go as planned. Fresh off a 30-point thumping of the Dallas Mavericks in Tuesday’s Game 5, the Phoenix Suns nearly met that same fate in Dallas for Game 6. The Mavs dominated the Suns in all facets of the game f0r a 113-86 final. The back-and-forth series is headed back to the Desert for Game 7 on Sunday.
In conversations with reporters following the game, the suns‘ trademark confidence didn’t depart them. Game 6 was a mess, and while that was acknowledge, they’re eagar to wipe the slate clean ahead of Sunday’s winner-take all contest.
“Best thing about all these playoff games is that you don’t carry a 20-point lead into the next game,” said ChrisPaul.. The All-Star point guard finished Game 6 with 14 points, four assists and five turnovers. “Each game is a personality of its own and now it’s down to one game. Game 7.”
Paul’s conclusion is backed up clearly. Each game has differed wildly from each other, but there’s an obvious pattern. Both teams are 3-0 on their home court in the series — and the Suns have the pleasure of hosting Game 7 due to their league-best record in the regular season.
“I feel like we worked as hard as we did all season to get home court,” Suns veteran Chris Paul said. “Just because you have home court doesn’t mean you’re going to win the game, you know what I mean, but you’d rather play at home than play here.”
Home court is an advantage all teams would prefer in a high-stakes game like Sunday’s will be. Even players that haven’t experienced a Game 7 know that it’ll be a unique level of intensity.
“We’ve worked all season to have home-court advantage and get the last game at our house and it’s exciting,” said Devin Booker. “It’s Game 7, I’ve never been in a Game 7. This will be fun.”