Luka Doncic clapped his hands as he walked off the American Airlines Center court with 3:43 remaining in the Mavericks’ Game 6 against the Phoenix Suns.
He slapped high five with coach Jason Kidd.
Nodded his head amid an adoring roar from 20,777 fans.
The look of a superstar ready for a win-or-go-home Game 7 against the NBA’s best team.
The Mavericks beat the Suns 113-86 on Thursday night to tie this second-round series at 3-3 and pass their first elimination test of the postseason.
Memories of a 30-point Game 5 loss in Phoenix seemed distant as Dallas stifled the Suns’ All-Star backcourt duo to move one win from the franchise’s first Western Conference Final since 2011.
Doncic shined in 35 minutes as the do-it-all bully with 33 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, four steals and a successful request for coach Jason Kidd to challenge what would’ve been his fifth foul with about 10 minutes remaining.
In his 22nd playoff game, Doncic tied Bob McAdoo for third-fastest to reach 700 playoff points in NBA history, behind just Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain’s 20-games mark.
Call it the real “Luka Special.”
“I like when people trash talk to me. It gets me going,” Doncic said. “It’s competitive basketball, and I like it.”
Or, as draft-night trade connection Trae Young stated afterward on Twitter:
“Luka backing that Talk up!!! He cookin these dudes.”
Doncic faced a slight injury scare before the game when he felt a “little pop” in his left thigh.
He warmed up “kind of OK,” but Doncic, at times in the first quarter, appeared to grimace and flex his knee. With a few minutes left in the first quarter, Doncic pulled a black compression sleeve over his left thigh, similar to the one he’s worn on his calf since returning from its strain.
He walked into the tunnel with head athletic trainer Dionne Calhoun at the start of the second quarter, when he typically takes a break, and returned a few minutes later to ride the stationary bike behind the Mavericks’ bench.
Doncic subbed back in at his usual rotation with 7:01 left in the first half.
“Now it’s a little bit worse,” Doncic said, “but it’s nothing serious.”
After needing 11 field-goal attempts to score 11 points in the second quarter, Doncic played from there with more efficiency and ease.
He drew two fouls on Devin Booker in a two-minute stretch, flexing after his second drive fell for an and-1 in a sequence that likely felt extra hype after Booker’s jab at “Luka Special” dramatics in Game 5.
Doncic then capped an 11-2 run with a stepback 3-pointer on the left wing to open the Mavericks’ first double-digit lead (52-41) with 2:48 remaining in the quarter. Dallas scored 19 of the last 25 first-half points to open their largest halftime lead this series (60-45).
A few minutes into the third quarter, Doncic drew a goaltending call to count a layup and put the Mavericks ahead 20 points, 68-48.
And then he dunked.
Twice in a span of three-possessions.
Not a puzzling situation with four minutes left in the third when he was whistled for a defensive foul despite taking Ayton’s elbow to his face disrupted Doncic’s fire and the Mavericks’ flow.
“I ask [umpire] Ed [Malloy], and he said it’s a tough play,” Doncic said. “But then JKidd called me out, so I had to go. It’s good I have a big head, a hard head.
“That’s why I said Bobi’s the best trash talker. He said, ‘I hope Ayton’s elbow is good because your head is so big.’”
Dallas’ offense operated with better pace and ball movement after a stagnant slide in Game 5 in which he logged a season-low-tying two assists.
Doncic emphasized the need for few turnovers and to initiate plays earlier in the shot clock after watching “mostly bad” Game 5 film before Thursday morning’s shootaround.
So did Kidd.
The focus helped open perimeter space for Reggie Bullock (19 points), Spencer Dinwiddie (15) and Maxi Kleber (nine) to combine for 13 of the Mavericks’ 16 made threes.
After matching their season average with 12 turnovers in the third quarter of Game 5 alone, the Mavericks committed just seven in Game 6 to the Suns’ 22, which Dallas turned into 29 points.
Another emphasis? Slowing Devin Booker, who shot 55% for 28 points in the Suns’ 30-point Game 5 blowout.
Kidd had vivid memories of Booker in closeout settings before Thursday.
A Lakers assistant last season, Kidd watched Booker score 22 of his 47 points in the Suns’ first-round-clinching Game 6 win over Los Angeles last June.
When a reporter asked him about Chris Paul’s clutch reputation before Game 6, Kidd instead highlighted Booker’s because he “definitively ended the game early against us in LA, so we’ve got to understand what his mindset is, too, and respect that.”
The Mavericks did.
They switched primary defensive matchups to move Bullock onto Booker, instead of Paul, and held Booker to 19 points on 6 of 17 from the field, including 0 of 4 from three. Paul finished with 13 points in 36 minutes, struggling in AAC for a third consecutive game.
Dallas would take a rinse and repeat for Game 7.
The Mavericks are 4-3 in Game 7s in franchise history but haven’t won since the 2006 second round against the San Antonio Spurs.
Doncic and the Mavericks’ core rotation gained experience with last year’s Game 7 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, and that’s what Kidd covets again.
“We’ve just started this journey,” Kidd said. “We don’t have a ceiling. We don’t have any pressure to win a championship. We’re trying to win and learn how to win at the highest level.”
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