The Dallas Mavericks have newfound life in their best-of-seven series against the Phoenix Suns following Friday night’s 103-94 victory in Game 3 to help Dallas avoid what would easily be considered an insurmountable 3-0 deficit. With the win, the Mavericks now have the opportunity to even the series on their home floor on Sunday.
Luka Doncic was fantastic for Dallas in the win finishing the game with 26 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists but he also had plenty of help as four other Mavericks players scored in double figures, led by Jalen Brunson’s game-high 28 points. On the other end, Phoenix’s entire starting lineup scored in double figures but they did not receive enough support from their bench in order to keep pace with Dallas.
We’ll see what happens next when these two teams meet again this Sunday.
Here are three key takeaways from the game:
1. Doncic puts on a show with post footwork
The Suns pulled away from the Mavericks in Game 2 in large part because they attacked Luka Doncic over and over again on the defensive end, and he had no answers. It was so bad that Doncic got called out by head coach Jason Kidd, who said he needed to “participate and play defense.”
While Doncic didn’t suddenly turn into prime Scottie Pippen, he was at least participating on that end in Game 3. And in truth, that’s more than enough when he’s dominating on the offensive side of the ball. Though hampered by foul trouble at times, Doncic put together another terrific performance on Friday, finishing with 26 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and two steals in just 34 minutes.
But while Doncic typically amazes with his passing or step-back 3-pointers, he went deep into his bag of tricks in Game 3 and put on a show with his post footwork. He absolutely cooked Deandre Ayton with a classic up-and-under:
Then he took Devin Booker into the paint and faked and pivoted his way into another easy bucket:
Eight of Doncic’s 11 field goals came at the rim, as he worked his way inside early and often in Game 3. While Doncic needs to play his part on defense, this game was another reminder that he makes his money when he has the ball in his hands.
2. Brunson, Mavs role players step up
The first two games of this series were the Luka Doncic show for the Mavericks on offense — even more so than usual. He either scored or assisted on 43 of the Mavericks’ 76 field goals (56.6 percent) in Games 1 and 2. That’s impressive, but it’s also not a recipe for success against a team as great as the Suns.
Dallas needed its role players to step up and provide some other offensive options if they wanted a chance to get back in this series. To their credit, they did exactly that on Friday night. The bench points were fairly even — 18-17 in favor of the Mavericks — but the other starters around Doncic were terrific. Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith and Jalen Brunson all scored in double figures, and combined for 47 points.
Brunson, in particular, was key. He was awesome in the first round against the Utah Jazz, carrying the Mavericks at the time in Doncic’s absence. But against the Suns he had been unable to get anything going. That changed in Game 3, as he came out aggressive and had 10 points in the first quarter. He kept that mindset up the rest of the way and finished with 28 points, four rebounds and five assists in by far his best game of the series.
The Mavericks will need Brunson to carry this over into Game 4 if they want to tie the series.
3. Paul, Suns off their game
The Mavericks deserve a lot of credit for how they responded in Game 3. They were down 2-0 and had been embarrassed at times in Phoenix during the first two games. This was a big-time statement that they weren’t about to lie down and let the Suns walk all over them en route to the Western Conference finals.
At the same time, we have to acknowledge that this was just a strange performance by the Suns. The first few minutes went well, but after that, they looked nothing like the team that had cruised to a 2-0 series lead and looked like the class of the Western Conference. They were sloppy with the ball, missing shots they usually make and just generally seemed out of sorts.
Nothing epitomized that more than Chris Paul’s seven turnovers in the first half. He didn’t have that many turnovers in the first two games combined and had never had even six turnovers in a half in a playoff game in his career. The Mavericks’ defense played a part, but there were a bunch of uncharacteristic plays where Paul just lost the ball or threw an off-target pass.
In the weirdest moment of all, he turned down a wide-open layup to throw a hook pass with his left hand that caught Deandre Ayton completely off guard.
Again, the Mavericks won this game. This isn’t to take away from what they accomplished, but rather to not that it was an odd performance from Paul — on his birthday, no less.