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Mavericks vs. Suns score, takeaways: Luka Doncic, Dallas force Game 7 with lopsided win over Phoenix

Doncic scored 33 points and Dallas hit 16 3-pointers in the win

The Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns are going to Game 7. Luka Doncic and the Mavericks cruised to a 113-86 win on their home court in Game 6 on Thursday night to tie the second-round series, 3-3. Dallas never looked back after taking a 15-point lead into halftime and hit 16 3-pointers in the lopsided win.

Doncic led all scorers with 33 points to go with 11 rebounds and eight assists. Reggie Bullock and Jalen Brunson helped the Mavs cause, combining for 37 points.

The Suns, who were coming off a 30-point victory in Game 5, once again struggled on the road. Chris Paul had only 13 points on seven field-goal attempts. Devin Booker scored 19, but missed all four of his 3-pointers.

Game 7 is set for Sunday in Phoenix. The home team has won every game in the series, and Phoenix will try to continue that trend and reach the Western Conference finals for the second year in a row. The Mavericks, meanwhile, are looking for their first conference finals berth since 2011. Here are the major takeaways from Game 6.

Saving his best for last

Cue up those Undertaker gifs ladies and gentlemen because Luka Doncic simply will not die. The fourth-year superstar is already building one of the greatest playoff resumes in NBA history. He has now played in 22 postseason games… and scored 30 or more points in 13 of them. But when his back is truly against the wall? That's when Doncic truly shines.

The Mavericks have reached the playoffs three times during Doncic's career, and Thursday's was Doncic's third elimination game. He lost the first two, but not for lack of trying. Doncic scored 38 points when the Mavericks lost Game 6 to the Clippers in 2020, and he one-upped himself with 46 in a Game 7 loss a year ago. Throw in his 33 points and Doncic is averaging a staggering 39 points in elimination games. LeBron James and Alex Groza are tied for second place… at "just" 33.5 points per game.

The first two elimination games Doncic played came against two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard. Tonight's came against Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Mikal Bridges. I wish I could tell you there was some strategic tick here, some subtle change in his playing style that makes Doncic especially lethal in season-saving games… but so far as I can tell, there isn't. He's just so unbelievably good that when he no longer sees any need to pace himself, he's completely and utterly unstoppable to even the NBA's best defenses. If Leonard and Bridges can't stop him, nobody can. We're looking at decades of this to come.

A defensive masterpiece

The Suns do a number of things very well, but if you were going to settle on two things they do better than anything else, you might pick shooting and ball-control. The Suns were an elite shooting team by virtually any measure, and Chris Paul teams are extremely protective of the ball. The key to beating them usually lies in disrupting one of those two traits. The Mavericks, to an absurd degree, managed to disrupt both.

The Suns attempted just 18 3-pointers in Game 6. That's tied for the second-fewest of the Monty Williams era. The Suns also committed 22 turnovers. That's tied for the third-most of the Monty Williams era. Two near milestones in the same game. Now, in fairness, the Suns do not rely exclusively on 3's as many other teams do. They're the best mid-range shooting team in the NBA, and those shots were still available to them in this game (though, just like everything else, they've been difficult to come by against a relentless Dallas defense). 

But at a certain point, math comes into play. The Mavericks limited the total number of shots Phoenix could take with all of those turnovers, and then among the shots they did give up, Dallas took away the most valuable ones a team can make. There wasn't some grand sacrifice either such as we've seen in the Celtics-Bucks series in which Milwaukee has sacrificed endless 3-point attempts to protect the basket. The Suns tallied just 44 points in the paint in Game 6, far below their regular-season average of 49.8. Dallas played good defense everywhere. They played great defense where it counts. The result was a blowout.

Setting the stage for Game 7

When LeBron James was in his fourth season, he toppled a No. 1 seed with Finals experience to make his own debut trip to the NBA's biggest stage. Doncic is still more than a round away, but it's hard not to notice the parallels here. The Suns, like the 2007 Pistons, were viewed as near locks to win this series. But by the grace of Doncic, the Mavericks have a genuine chance to topple a team that won 12 more games than they did in the regular season, and with Golden State looking less than flawless against an injured Grizzlies team, there is a genuine path to the Finals forming for Dallas.

Doncic doesn't need a fourth-year Finals trip to validate his greatness. We all expect him to get there eventually, and to do so plenty of times. But the scale on which he is judged is different from most players, and even most All-Stars. We're talking about a youngster here who has a chance to go down as one of the greatest in NBA history. Players like that tend to defy even our wildest expectations. Nobody thought LeBron could make the Finals in his fourth season. Doncic, as great as he is, is not LeBron… yet. If he's going to challenge for that sort of legacy, milestones like this are going to be a big point in his favor.

But ultimately, if it takes Doncic another year or two, nobody is going to bat an eyelash. The stakes are significantly more immediate for Phoenix. Chris Paul is 37. This probably isn't his last rodeo, but he's not far from the end. He's averaging 9.3 points, 6.3 assists and 4.5 turnovers over his past four games. He might be hurt or he might just be old, but chances like this are rare. Paul, who has never won a championship, knows this well. He has home-court advantage in Game 7 and throughout the playoffs. There's no guarantee that will be the case next season. His best chance to win a title is right now.

And then there's DeAndre Ayton, the player Phoenix drafted over Doncic in 2018. He tried and failed to negotiate a max contract extension last offseason, and is now slated for restricted free agency in the offseason. He did everything in his power to secure that contract when the Suns were winning 64 games. The defensive improvements he made during last year's Finals run sustained, and he grew far more comfortable punishing smaller lineups as a scorer. But Dallas has stifled him in that regard, and even if it isn't remotely his fault, the optics of losing to the player Phoenix should have drafted would hang over Ayton's head forever. It's far likelier than not that any restricted free agent will stay in place, but if Ayton wants to be treated like a cornerstone in Phoenix, Game 7 might be his last chance to prove he deserves it.

This isn't the Finals. There isn't quite a championship on the line yet. But as far as second-round Game 7's go, it would be hard to ask for much more in the way of both immediate and historic stakes. Both sides have far more than a season on the line here.

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