Mavs go defensive, Suns lead 103-94 for 2-1 series deficit

DALLAS (AP) – Luka Doncic got the help he and the Dallas Mavericks needed – from Jalen Brunson on offense and himself, Reggie Bullock and others on defense.

The Dallas superstar had 26 points and 13 rebounds, and the Mavericks increased the defensive pressure to get back in their Western Conference semifinal series with Phoenix, beating the Suns 103-94 on Friday night.

The Mavericks ruined Chris Paul’s 37th birthday, forcing the 17-year-old pro to complete his most turnovers in any half of a playoff game with seven before the break.

Dallas cut the Suns’ lead to 2-1 and snapped an 11-game losing streak against Phoenix, including the regular season. Game 4 is Sunday in Dallas.

“Energy, man,” Doncic said of Dallas’ best defensive performance of the series. “The crowd drives you forward. The energy and the execution was better. That’s what we have to do in every game.”

Paul had no more turnovers after halftime, but the Suns eventually struggled with their shot as they didn’t return it. Phoenix shot 45%, ending an eight-game postseason shooting streak of at least 50%.

“I felt like all seven of them were back-to-back,” said Paul, whose career-high for a playoff game is eight turnovers. “If I don’t return the ball like that, I feel like it’s a different game.”

Jae Crowder scored 19 for Phoenix, but the Mavericks limited Devin Booker’s impact the same way they did for Paul. Booker scored 18 but was just 2 of 7 from inside the 3-point line, and Paul had 12 on just nine shots (five completed) in the Suns’ lowest game of the season.

Doncic narrowly missed a triple-double with nine assists, while Brunson led Dallas with 28 points after struggling in both losses to Phoenix when Doncic averaged 40 points but didn’t receive enough assists .

“I found a way to bounce back tonight,” Brunson said. “I just can’t be happy with this. Sunday is going to be another brutal game. I have to bring the same energy, the same intensity, the same everything.”

A scrambled Dallas defense was the biggest difference, starting from the opening tip with Bullock following Paul everywhere. The Mavericks entered passing lanes, including when Spencer Dinwiddie tiptoed along the sideline after a steal for a layup in transition.

Paul had six turnovers in the first 16 minutes, including one when he simply lost the ball trying to force his way to the basket. Dallas’ only turnover before halftime was an offensive foul on Doncic, who didn’t like the call enough to mimic what he thought were flop moves by Paul.

The Suns targeted Doncic’s defense shooting 84% to retire in the fourth quarter of a 20-point win in Game 2. The 23-year-old Slovenian dived onto the field early in it, earning a battle with Deandre Ayton for a loose ball.

“When you see your best player doing that, it kind of sets the mood,” Dorian Finney-Smith said.

Doncic had to leave with his fifth foul early in the fourth quarter, and the Suns cut an 18-point deficit earlier in the second half to nine just after he returned.

Brunson responded with free throws to bring the lead back to double digits, and the Mavericks got enough saves to stay comfortably up front.

The lead was eight when Doncic prevented Crowder from getting a steal near midfield with one minute remaining, leading to a corner 3 with de Bullock, who scored 15. He and Finney-Smith, who scored 14 , had four 3s each.

“It wasn’t like us,” Booker said. “You can credit them. They came out tough, desperate. That’s it. We’ve got a streak.”

TIPS

Suns: Mikal Bridges was called for a technical foul late in the first half, and Paul got one early in the second. Both entered timeouts. … Ayton had 16 points and 11 rebounds. … Torrey Craig was out with a bruised right elbow. He played sparingly in the first two games of the series.

Mavericks: Bullock, who spent a lot of time guarding Paul in the first half, was flagged as questionable with a rib injury at halftime. … Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley, a former Dallas assistant, attended the game. Two of his players, Cole Anthony and Wendell Carter Jr., were with him.

QUICK HOOK

The Mavericks received a favorable possession call early in the second half when the ball appeared to go out of bounds. The officials dominated the ball from Dallas, and as the Suns tried to beg the officials to reconsider, Brunson quickly joined Finney-Smith, who hit a no-dribble 3.

Leave a Comment