Luka Doncic has his first victory in an elimination game.
Now the young Dallas superstar gets another one – and another Game 7 to boot.
Doncic scored 33 points and the Mavericks beat the Phoenix Suns 113-86 on Thursday night to force a deciding game in the Western Conference semi-finals.
The home team has won all six games, none with a margin closer than seven points. A trip to the West finals will be at stake Sunday in Phoenix.
The Mavericks won when facing elimination for the first time in three tries with the 23-year-old Doncic, their three-time All-Star point guard.
The two losses came against the Clippers the past two seasons, including Game 7 in Los Angeles last year after the visitors won the first six games, a first in the playoffs. Dallas is playing beyond the first round for the first time since winning the title 11 years ago, when first-year coach Jason Kidd was the point guard.
“I don’t know if he was playing as if he was trying to do something different,” Kidd said. “I think he enjoys the moment. You guys have seen a little bit longer than I have up close. He’s not afraid of the stage. I think you guys call it the first time winning an elimination game. He’ll be in this situation a long, long time.”
The Suns, seeking a second consecutive trip to the conference finals, are going the distance in a series for the first time in two post-seasons with Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The previous three went six, including Phoenix’s loss to Milwaukee last year in the NBA Finals.
Booker scored 19 points but was shut out from 3-point range (0 of 4) while going 6 of 17. Deandre Ayton had 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Paul added 13 points.
The top-seeded Suns were held to a season low in scoring, regular season or playoffs, for the second time in the series. They shot a playoff-low 40% with 22 turnovers, the most all season.
“I don’t have enough time to talk about everything that’s eating at me,” coach Monty Williams said. “I didn’t think we understood the desperation they were going to play with. Couple that with the turnovers that we had tonight, it’s a recipe for what we just got.”
The 37-year-old Paul is now in line for his eighth Game 7, while the 27-year-old Booker is about to play his first.
“Greatest two words in sports,” Booker said. “I’m excited to feel the energy. I’m excited to be a part of it. It’s a great opportunity.”
Reggie Bullock scored 19 points for Dallas, going 5 of 11 from 3-point range after being held scoreless and getting just five shots total in Game 5. Jalen Brunson added 18, and Spencer Dinwiddie had a series-high 15, all on 3s (5 of 7).
Doncic played through an apparent left leg injury that sent him to the locker-room when he would have been out of the game anyway in the second quarter. He returned to the bench and rode a stationary bike before re-entering the game.
Soon after, the Mavericks went on a decisive 19-5 run to finish the first half, turning a two-point lead into a 60-45 halftime edge.
It was a home-team replay of the third quarter from Game 5, when Phoenix went on a 17-0 run for an 18-point lead and ended up winning by 30.
Doncic, who had 11 rebounds and eight assists, fought his shot while fighting the injury early, but had a 3 on the late first-half run and scored 10 in the third to help the Mavericks push their lead to 22 (94-72).
Paul avoided the problems with fouls that cost the Suns in the second loss in Dallas. But he was never much of a factor, getting just seven shots.
Booker was stuck on eight points while Dallas pulled away in the second and third quarters, opening the second half with a miss on an ill-advised 3 and not scoring again until the Suns were down 21 late in the third.
“I think we won this game on the defensive end,” Doncic said. “We’ve got another game. That’s fun. It’s playoffs, and we’re going to give our energy.”
Booker’s eight turnovers also were a season high, regular season included. The Phoenix miscues came after Dallas had 12 turnovers in the third quarter of Game 5 while getting outscored 33-14. Paul wasn’t as bad as the seven turnovers in the first half of Game 3, the most he’s ever had in a half in a playoff game. But he had five more in Game 6.
Suns: Ayton got a technical for elbowing Doncic in the face when Doncic fouled him on a dunk in the third quarter. Doncic missed the technical free throw, and Ayton finished the three-point play. ... Bismack Biyombo didn’t have the same impact as the replacement for JaVale McGee, who didn’t play for the first time in the series. Biyombo had four points and three rebounds in 14 minutes.
Mavericks: This was the 10th consecutive time this season the Mavericks have answered a loss of at least 20 points with a victory. The streak is actually 13 games going back to last season, including a playoff win at the Clippers after a 25-point loss at home. ... Dallas recovered from a slow start from 3 to finish 16 of 39 (41 per cent). It was another strong night despite the continuing struggles of Doncic, who was 2 of 8 to put him at 7 of 33 over the past four games.