PHOENIX — Dallas’ past, present and future collided in hugs and handshakes on Sunday, when Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki drowned Luka Doncic in love after the Mavericks’ 123-90 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference semifinals.
The 23-year-old superstar scored a game-high 35 points, added 10 rebounds and four dimes to push Dallas into the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2011 — coincidentally, the year Nowitzki won his only championship, when the Mavs won. a 2-0 series deficit for the third time in franchise history en route to eliminating the Suns 4-3 in stunning fashion.
“I think we learned a lot from Game 7 last year (against the LA Clippers in the first round) and Game 6,” Doncic said. “We had two chances to move on. we didn’t. So I think we learned a lot from there. This team is just special. I have nothing else to say”.
No need, Mr. Doncic. The stellar work of him spoke.
The result at the Footprint Center on Sunday marked the first away victory for either team in this series of fights. Dallas earned its first win at home to the Suns since Nov. 29, 2019, snapping an eight-game losing streak at Phoenix by posting the third-largest margin of victory (33 points) in playoff team history.
We’ll delve into Doncic’s special night and Dallas’ dominance, as well as the future of veteran Suns point guard Chris Paul, in our five takeaways from this stunning Mavericks win, as the team now prepares to face Golden State on Wednesday in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals:
1. Doncic’s excellence in facing elimination
Surely, Phoenix understood the challenge he faced in pushing Doncic into an elimination situation. So while you may think the Mavs’ superstar shooting guard’s performance against the Suns was amazing, let’s review what the man does when his back is against the wall in an elimination situation.
Doncic has averaged 39.0 points facing elimination in his career, and that’s the highest scoring average in that arena in NBA history (minimum three games). Sitting behind Doncic on that list of elimination killers are Alex Groza (33.5 ppg), LeBron James (33.5), Michael Jordan (31.3) and Wilt Chamberlain (31.1).
You could easily see that Doncic was on a mission from the start. He lit up Phoenix with 12 points in the first quarter on 5-for-7 shooting with eight rebounds and three assists, helping them take a 27-17 lead in the first frame thanks to a beautiful series of 3-pointers with steps back, hard feather-soft pushers and floats.
What’s wild is that the guard matched the entire Phoenix team’s scoring production in the first half alone with his 27 points, as Dallas amassed the most massive halftime lead (57-27) in Game 7 history. .
And Spencer Dinwiddie only compounded the blowout with his 21 points in the first two quarters, drilling 4-for-5 from deep.
“It’s still a bit shocking,” Dinwiddie said. “The Suns were the best basketball team all season. You have to give them credit for the season they had. We were confident going into the game. We definitely believed we could win.”
Doncic (27 points) and Dinwiddie (21) finished as the first pair of teammates to burn down the opposition by 20 points or more in the middle of a Game 7 since 1997, when the New York Knicks’ duo of Patrick Ewing and Allan Houston accomplished the feat in the second half against the Miami Heat.
Interestingly, outside of Doncic and Dinwiddie, the rest of the Mavs went 3-for-18 combined in the first half. But Dallas’ numbers would gradually improve. With 2:40 remaining in the third quarter, the Mavericks had increased shooting to 53% from the field and 50% from range while rushing out to an 85-47 lead.
The Mavs finished the game shooting 56.8% as Doncic (35), Dinwiddie (30) and Jalen Brunson (24) combined for 89 points. For context, consider that the Suns used a total of 14 players to score just 90 points.
2. The clash of approaches between the teams is evident
Phoenix spoke openly during the lead up to Game 7 about how to accept the pressure of such a big game. The team admitted the seriousness of the situation, with players noting that this is precisely why the Suns had worked so hard during the regular season.
Phoenix became the third team in NBA history to win 64 games or more during the regular season and not advance to the conference finals, joining the 2015-16 San Antonio Spurs and the 2006-07 Mavericks.
You can’t help but notice the blatantly different approaches the teams took to Game 7.
It’s also worth asking if those competing methodologies played a role in the outcome of the contest.
“As risky as situations and decisions are, you have to accept them,” Suns coach Monty Williams said before the game. “This is what we wanted. Three years ago, we were not in this situation. I am aware of how far we have come.”
Meanwhile, Dallas entered this pressure cooker of a situation with a more relaxed approach, feeling like he was playing with house money. Interestingly enough, Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said just before the game that he would consider the season “a success” if his team lost in Game 7.
“There is no pressure. We are a young team and we have improved in a lot of areas where people thought we couldn’t improve,” she said. “So, it’s a success no matter what. The season doesn’t end if we lose today. It’s just a start. I talked about it before Game 6. It’s just the beginning of this journey. We learn from our victories and we learn from our losses. The greats have always done that. They never started out winning championships.”
3. Rotation problems continue for Phoenix
The Suns entered Game 7 averaging 16.0 turnovers in this series, and the Mavericks scored 20.3 points per game on those giveaways. In fact, Phoenix had committed more than 17 turnovers in five straight starts before Game 7.
Forward Jae Crowder called the gifts a byproduct of “overthinking,” and Williams agreed with that assessment.
“[It’s all about] just making the easy play,” Williams said just before the game. “That’s something we talked about in the last few days. That’s something we’ve been doing all year. From good to great, from paint to great, that’s who we are.”
Phoenix seemingly lost that identity Sunday at the Footprint Center. The Suns improved in the turnover department by committing just 12 on the night that Dallas converted into 15 points.
But much of Phoenix’s self-inflicted damage came in the first half (seven turnovers that Dallas turned into nine points), when the Mavs stacked jump shots like Jenga to build their big lead. The gifts added to the problems already raised by the good starts of Doncic and Dinwiddie.
By the end of the third quarter, the Suns had given up 10 turnovers that Dallas turned into 15 points, while the Mavericks had given up eight turnovers for a total of four points in that span for the home team. Dallas entered the contest averaging 10.2 turnovers, which is second-fewest of any playoff team behind Toronto (10.0).
The Mavs would finish the game with 12 turnovers, which was inconsequential on a night when the visitors led by as much as 46 points.
Yes, that’s right, 46 points.
4. Suns cold shot eclipses
It’s probably hard for many to remember that Phoenix began the postseason shooting 50% or better in their first eight games before falling below 50% from the floor (45.2%) in their last four contests before Game 7.
To be sure, the Suns hoped to improve in this do-or-die conclusion to this series.
No possibility. In fact, Game 7 marked the first time this season that Phoenix shot below 40% in back-to-back starts.
In the first half alone, Phoenix shot an alarming 10-for-41 from the floor en route to falling far behind at intermission. The Suns’ all-star trio of Devin Booker, Paul and Deandre Ayton combined to make just 1 of 15 shots (6 points) through the first two quarters. On the other hand, Doncic and Dinwiddie shot a combined 16 of 22 blisters in the same span.
“You can have those nights during the regular season, and you have them here and there where your shot can’t fall, and they’re hitting every shot,” said Booker, who shot 3-for-14 and 0-for-3.4 from deep to finish with 11 points. “They followed their game plan, they did a good job taking the ball out of my hands and catching every action I was in. I’m not the person who’s going to go out there and try to shoot eight people. I’m going to try to make the right play. We missed shots early. I missed the few open ones I got, and that was it.”
Phoenix took shot after shot from the rim on the night, hitting 37.9% from the floor and 35.3% on 3-point attempts.
5. The future of CP3
Paul, a 12-time All-Star, plans to continue what has thus far been an unsuccessful journey in pursuit of capturing his first NBA title. Paul turned 37 during this series, but immediately signaled after Game 7 that the marathon will continue in 2022-23, when he will enter his 18th year.the station.
Paul posted a minus-39 on Sunday, marking the worst plus-minus of his NBA career in the regular season or playoffs. In the last four games of this series, the veteran averaged 9.4 points, 5.8 assists and 3.6 turnovers.
Paul led Phoenix to the NBA Finals in 2020-21, and the Suns fell short. This time around, the team faltered even earlier, leading some to wonder if the point guard has missed his chance to win the championship.
“They said that last year, they probably said that in 2008,” Paul said. “[If] you play enough and you don’t win, every time you lose, they’re going to say it was your best chance. I think for me and for us it is that we will return next year. [I’ll] tell you so much I’m not retiring tomorrow, thank God.”
The result in Game 7 marked the fourth time in franchise history the Suns blew a 2-0 series lead, and it’s the fifth time in Paul’s career that it has happened.
While we’re on the subject of the future, you should pay close attention to what’s happening in Phoenix this offseason with pending restricted free agent center Deandre Ayton, who will be eligible to re-sign with the Suns for big money. Ayton played a total of 17 minutes in the decisive Game 7 and finished with only 5 points.
Williams was asked why Ayton played limited minutes in such a crucial contest.
“It’s internal,” the coach said.
Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can send him an email herefind your file here and follow him on Twitter.
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