Just like the Memphis Grizzlies did a day earlier in the other Western Conference Semifinal match-up, the Dallas Mavericks came into their first elimination game of these playoffs more than ready and punched their opponents in the mouth.
Dallas took a commanding 113-86 win in Game 6 versus the Phoenix Suns to force a Game 7 in their second round series. Luka Doncic was brilliant yet again and dropped 33 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, four steals, and only one turnover.
The 23-year-old Doncic is now averaging32.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 7.5 assists, and 2.2 steals in this semifinal match-up and has been the undisputed best player on either team in this series so far.
Despite the high stakes of this contest, the three-time NBA All-Star never seemed fazed and was cool all throughout–still throwing a few of his usual behind-the-back passes over the course of the match. It was his first career win in an elimination game in three tries following consecutive first round eliminations at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers in the prior two seasons.
Unironically, it was Doncic who broke the game open in the second quarter as he completed a three-point play with slightly over four minutes left in the opening half. He caught Mikal Bridges flat footed and drove to the basket with his left hand for a lay-up that he completed amidst a challenge at the rim by Devin Booker that was deemed a foul.
That basket and made free throw from Doncic snapped a prolonged drought from both teams that lasted almost two minutes. It put the Mavericks up by five, 44-39, and ultimately proved to be the spark that they needed. Dallas proceeded to erect a 15-point halftime lead through a late first half run led by starting forward Reggie Bullock who scored eight of his 19 points over that stretch.
At the beginning of the third quarter, the Mavericks kicked things off with a give-and-go between Doncic and starting center Dwight Powell that culminated with the latter finishing an alley-oop dunk. That set the tone for the second half as Dallas did not look back from that point on. They increased their lead to 22 points by the end of the third period and their 27-point winning margin was their largest lead of the evening.
The Mavericks’ Game 6 victory almost mirrored the top-seeded Suns’ dominant 30-point Game 5 win. This sets up a riveting Game 7 narrative that pits this overachieving Dallas group against a Phoenix team that came into this season with championship aspirations.
Booker will be an influential factor in the outcome of Game 7, given the stark contrast of his performances in wins and losses in this series. In the Suns’ three losses, he has scored less than 20 points twice including this Game 6 defeat where he had 19 points on six-of-17 shooting along with a costly eight turnovers. Meanwhile, he has averaged 27 points and only 1.6 wins in their three wins.
On the other hand, Doncic has been a steady force for the Mavericks and it will be up to his teammates to step up in order to advance to the Western Conference Finals. At least three members of their supporting group have to play well and in Game 6, it was Bullock, Jalen Brunson, and Spencer Dinwiddie who helped carry the load.
Win or lose though, this match-up with Phoenix will go down as a monumental moment for Doncic. He has consistently played at an elite level and is no longer just a rising star. While this season’s run is sure to lead to loftier expectations come next year, everything that this team achieves from this point on is already gravy.
Doncic is still only in his fourth season yet has already played like the all-time great that many projected him to be when he first broke onto the scene. Phoenix will host Game 7 and are rightfully favored to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
However, any team that has Doncic onboard should have at least a puncher’s chance to win and in a high stakes moment like a Game 7, that might be just enough for Dallas to pull off what would be the biggest upset of this postseason so far.