Luka Doncic, fueled by Phoenix Suns’ trash talk, leads Dallas Mavericks to first elimination-game win of his career
DALLAS — For the second time in a span of three possessions, Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic drove straight down the lane and finished with a two-handed dunk.
The top-seeded Phoenix Suns, trailing by 20 points midway through the third quarter of Thursday’s Game 6, called timeout, providing Doncic a chance to extend his post-dunk celebrating beyond the flexing and snarling he did after several baskets in the Mavs’ series-evening 113-86 rout at the American Airlines Center. Doncic strutted out to half court, aggressively nodding his head and shouting in the direction of the Suns’ bench.
It was a bit of payback after Doncic had to listen to the Suns bark while blowing out the Mavs in Game 5. A series that has been quite chippy despite not featuring any close games will be decided in Sunday’s Game 7 back at the Footprint Center in Phoenix.
“I like when people trash talk to me,” Doncic said after his 33-point, 11-rebound, 8-assist, 4-steal performance. “It gets me going. It’s fun.”
This marked the first time in the 23-year-old Doncic’s NBA career that the Mavs won a game while facing elimination. But Doncic has shined brightly in each of his opportunities on that stage despite losing to the LA Clippers the previous two postseasons, averaging 39 points, 9 rebounds and 11 assists in three win-or-go-home games.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Doncic’s scoring average is the highest of any player in NBA history for games in which his team is facing elimination.
“Elimination is I guess the word that you guys use, but it’s just another game for us on this journey, and our journey is to win a championship,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. “Sometimes it ends early, sometimes you’re able to play until June. I think he just enjoys the moment. He’s not afraid of the stage.”
Doncic had better production than Phoenix’s All-Star guards Devin Booker (19 points, 3 assists) and Chris Paul (13 points, 4 assists) combined. The Suns finished with a season low in points and a season high in turnovers (22) while shooting only 39.7% from the floor.
“We just kept applying pressure,” said Mavs guard Jalen Brunson, who had 18 points and three steals. “Now it’s over, and now we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to steal a win in Phoenix.”
Booker and Paul, in particular, were uncharacteristically sloppy, combining for eight turnovers. It was the second time in this series that Paul recorded more turnovers than assists — the first time in his career that has happened in a single postseason, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Phoenix coach Monty Williams said he didn’t think the Suns “understood the desperation the [Mavs] were going to play with,” a factor in being dominated by a 29-6 margin in points off of turnovers.
“It’s got to be a together thing where everybody is on the same page,” said center Deandre Ayton, who led the Suns with 21 points and 11 rebounds. “And it wasn’t like that tonight. There were a lot of mistakes. It felt like a regular-season game, the amount of mistakes we had today. The turnovers, terrible, unacceptable. It was that type of game where it was just unacceptable, man. Them dudes, they wanted it more.”
Doncic especially imposed his will on the Suns, following through on his post-Game 5 promise to attack the paint more. Fourteen of his 26 field goal attempts came in the paint, including 8-of-13 shooting in the restricted area.
“He’s a tough player. He’s a great player,” said Dallas forward Reggie Bullock, who was the primary defender on Booker and scored 19 points. “I laugh at it when they try to guard him. They’re going to do the same thing to him — bring him up in every pick-and-roll — but when he gets the switch, it’s a bucket every time. I don’t know about the switches with him [on defense] to get a bucket every time. I just know that we’re going to back him up. That’s our teammate. He’s going to hold us down on the offensive end and give us his best on the defensive end.”
Doncic posted a historical statistical line in his lone Game 7 so far in his career. He had 46 points and 14 assists against the Clippers — creating 77 points, the most all time in a Game 7, according to Elias Sports Bureau research — but the Mavs still suffered a lopsided loss.
“I don’t care about stats as long as we win,” Doncic said. “If we win, I’m good. The statistics don’t really matter to me, but if we win, it’s going to be amazing. I think we won this game on the defensive end, and we’ve got another game.”
This will be the first Game 7 of Booker’s career. Paul is 3-4 in Game 7s in which he has played, including 2-2 on his team’s home court.
“I feel like we worked as hard as we did all season to get home court,” Paul said. “Just because you have home court doesn’t guarantee you’re going to win the game, but we’d rather play at home than play here.
“Been in it before. Seen it. The best thing about all these playoff games is you don’t carry the 20-point lead into the game. Each game is a personality of its own, and now it’s down to one game, Game 7.”
ESPN’s Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.