Mavericks vs.  Suns score, takeaways: Luka Doncic and Dallas force Game 7 with lopsided win over Phoenix

Mavericks vs. Suns score, takeaways: Luka Doncic and Dallas force Game 7 with lopsided win over Phoenix

The Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns go into Game 7. Luka Doncic and the Mavericks won 113-86 at home in Game 6 Thursday night to tie the second-round series at 3-3. Dallas never looked back after taking a 15-point lead at halftime and hitting 16 3-pointers in the lopsided win.

Doncic led all scorers with 33 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Reggie Bullock and Jalen Brunson helped the Mavs’ cause, scoring 37 points.

The Suns, who were coming off a 30-point win in Game 5, once again struggled on the road. Chris Paul had just 13 points on seven field goal attempts. Devin Booker scored 19 but missed all four of his 3-pointers.

Game 7 is scheduled for Sunday in Phoenix. The home team has won every game in the series, and Phoenix will look to continue that trend and reach the Western Conference Finals for the second year in a row. Meanwhile, the Mavericks are looking for their first spot in the Conference Finals since 2011. Here are the key takeaways from Game 6.

Saving your best for last

Leave those Undertaker gifs, ladies and gentlemen, because Luka Doncic just won’t die. The fourth-year star is already building one of the biggest playoff resumes in NBA history. He’s played in 22 postseason games… and scored 30 or more points in 13 of them. But when is his back really against the wall? That’s when Doncic really shines.

The Mavericks made the playoffs three times during Doncic’s career, and Thursday’s was Doncic’s third elimination game. He missed the first two, but not for lack of trying. Doncic scored 38 points when the Mavericks lost Game 6 to the Clippers in 2020, and he topped himself with 46 in a Game 7 loss a year ago. Throw in your 33 points and Doncic is averaging an impressive 39 points in elimination games. LeBron James and Alex Groza are tied for second…with “only” 33.5 points per game.

The first two elimination games Doncic played were against two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi Leonard. Today’s was against runner-up Defensive Player of the Year, Mikal Bridges. I wish I could tell you that there was some strategic tic here, some subtle shift in his playstyle that makes Doncic especially lethal in season-saving games… but as far as I know, there isn’t. He is so unbelievably good that when he no longer sees the need for pace, he is completely unstoppable by even the best defenders in the NBA. If Leonard and Bridges can’t stop him, no one can. We’re looking at decades of that to come.

A defensive masterpiece

The Suns do a number of things very well, but if you settle for two things they do better than any other, you can choose shooting and ball control. The Suns were an elite shooting team by virtually any measure, and Chris Paul’s teams are extremely protective of the ball. The key to beating them usually lies in interrupting one of these two traits. The Mavericks, to an absurd degree, managed to get in both of them.

The Suns attempted just 18 3-pointers in Game 6. This is tied for second-lowest of the Monty Williams era. The Suns also committed 22 turnovers. This is tied for the third largest part of the Monty Williams era. Two nearby milestones in the same game. Now, to be fair, the Suns don’t rely solely on 3’s like many other teams. They are the best mid-range shooting team in the NBA, and those shots were still available to them in this game (although, like everything else, they were hard to come by against a relentless Dallas defense).

But at a certain point, math comes into play. The Mavericks limited the total number of pitches Phoenix could make with all those turnovers, and among the pitches that dropped out, Dallas took the most valuable a team can make. There weren’t any big sacrifices either, as we saw in the Celtics-Bucks series, in which Milwaukee sacrificed endless 3-point attempts to protect the basket. The Suns recorded just 44 points 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 an explosion.

Setting the stage for game 7

When LeBron James was in his fourth season, he toppled a number one seed with Finals experience to make his own rookie 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 seen as close to winning this series. But by Doncic’s grace, the Mavericks have a genuine chance to take down a team that won 12 more games than they did in the regular season, and with Golden State looking less than perfect against an injured Grizzlies team, there’s a genuine path to take. the finals forming for Dallas.

Doncic doesn’t need a trip to the fourth year finals to validate his greatness. We all hope he gets there eventually, and he does it often. But the scale on which he is judged is different from most players and even most All-Stars. We’re talking about a young man here who has the chance to be one of the greatest in NBA history. Players like this tend to defy even our wildest expectations. Nobody thought LeBron could make it to the finals in his fourth season. Doncic, as good as he is, is not LeBron… yet. If he’s going to fight for that kind of legacy, milestones like this will be a big point in his favor.

But at the end of the day, if Doncic takes another year or two, no one will blink. The stakes are significantly more immediate for Phoenix. Chris Paul is 37 years old. This probably isn’t his last rodeo, but he’s not far from over. He is averaging 9.3 points, 6.3 assists and 4.5 turnovers in his last four games. He could be injured or he could just be old, but chances like that are rare. Paul, who has never won a championship, knows this well. He has home advantage in Game 7 and the playoffs. There is no guarantee that will be the case next season. Your best chance to win a title is now.

And then there’s DeAndre Ayton, the player Phoenix selected over Doncic in 2018. He tried and failed to negotiate a maximum contract extension last offseason, and is now slated for restricted free agency in the offseason. He did everything in his power to secure that contract when the Suns were winning 64 games. The defensive improvements he made during last year’s finals held up, and he’s become much more comfortable punishing smaller teams as top scorer. But Dallas smothered him in that regard, and even if it’s not remotely his fault, the optics of losing to the player Phoenix should have called up would hang over Ayton’s head forever. Any restricted free agent is far more likely to remain in place, but if Ayton wants to be treated like a cornerstone in Phoenix, Game 7 could be his last chance to prove he deserves it.

This is not the Final. There is still no championship at stake. But as far as Game 7 of the second round is concerned, it would be hard to ask for much more in terms of immediate and historical betting. Both sides have a lot more than a season on the line here.

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