The Dallas Mavericks didn’t just win Game 6 — they took it.
With Dallas’ back against the wall, trailing the series 3-2, Luka Doncic and Co. engineered a gameplan born of desperation and a refusal to go out quietly into the warm summer night. Forcing Phoenix into 22 turnovers and a meager 18 3-point attempts, of which it made six, Dallas won 113-86 Thursday night at the American Airlines Center
“Our defense was great tonight,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said. “Now, we got to find a way to win on Sunday.”
Dallas looked starved, and from the tip, it played ravenously. And It appears as though the Mavericks are used to playing with their backs against the wall; they almost like it that way.
In Game 3, down 2-0, Dallas answered emphatically. In Game 4, down 2-1, it rained 3-pointers. Now, in Game 6, in a win-or-stay-home situation, Dallas dialed up the intensity, again. And in the process, the Mavericks looked every bit of a team eager to play in a conference finals, while Phoenix looked both tired and ill-prepared for the moment.
Doncic — Dallas’ incredulous showman and superstar — came to play. He scored 33 points and led the Mavericks in rebounds (11), assists (eight) and steals (four). He was everything Dallas needed him to be, and his propensity to play up to the moment, scoring or assisting in every capacity required, cements his status as one of the greatest offensive talents to ever play in the NBA.
Somehow, to him, it was just another game — another win.
And in winning Game 6, Dallas saved its season. But can the Mavericks do it again in a Game 7? That is a story only Sunday can tell. However, if Dallas does what won Game 6, a win isn’t impossible — in fact, it’s somewhat probable.
How team defense won Game 6
Early, Dallas opted to double Devin Booker, play physical with Chris paul and answer every run Phoenix attempted to put together with one of its own.
Coming into Game 6, Booker was shooting 54 percent from three in the last four games. Thursday night, he didn’t make any (0-4). Booker ended the night with 19 points and was a minus-19 when on the court. And the reason for Booker’s struggles was the distinguishable defensive play by Reggie Bullock, who after the game said he just “tried to make things difficult.”
Kidd, far more effusive in his praise of Bullock, gave credit to the Mavericks’ swingman for his versatility and energy throughout the entire game.
“We’ve asked him to guard everybody, and he’s been up to the challenge,” Kidd said. “Book is a great player, but Reggie did a great job.”
Dallas’ defense can shrink the floor, squeezing Phoenix’s stars and making them play like there is no space to operate within a halfcourt set. Between Dorian Finney-Smith and Bullock, and at times Frank Ntilikina, Dallas has droves of defenders who pick up Paul and Booker full court — a defensive shift in the series that has evidently altered Paul’s effectiveness overall.
“Everyone was locked in,” Doncic said of the defensive effort.
Dallas held Paul to 12 points in Game 3, five points in Game 4, seven points in Game 5 and 13 points in Game 6. Those numbers are a far cry from the Paul Dallas saw in the first two games of the series. The Mavericks’ defense on the 37-year-old guard has forced everyone watching to posit the question, is this all Paul has left?
Throughout his career, Paul has given up 2-0 leads in countless series. The most painful meltdown came in the NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks. However, dropping a series to Dallas that looked like a sweep after the first two, while the West remains eerily open to either team that makes it out of the second round, has to come in a close second place.
Dallas has given Paul another second-round nightmare. His subsequent meltdown following Game 3 in the series is still unexplainable.
The luster and shine of Phoenix disappeared. And Pual’s ability to perform in big moments seemingly vanished with it. Still, Dallas has a tall task ahead. Winning a Game 7 on the road is no easy feat. And though few picked them to win this series, you have to ask at this point, can the Mavericks actually win Game 7?
Looking ahead to Game 7
If Dallas can harness the energy it played with on Thursday night. If Doncic can be the best version of himself, and then some. And if Paul disappears as he has for the three games prior, Dallas could look like a team of destiny — shades of 2011.
However, reality says Dallas hasn’t won in Phoenix since 2019. Yes, you read that right. And Phoenix is still the defending Western Conference champions.
Nonetheless, it’s hard not to believe in Dallas. With the way Kidd has his team humming, you almost can’t help but say the near-impossible is possible for a group of castaways that love to hit threes and play defense.
It also helps that Doncic believes Game 7 is one Dallas should win. He references Dallas’ ability to routinely get off the mat after taking Phoenix’s best punch. Now, it’s time to see if Dallas can take one more punch from Phoenix and still come out on the other side.
“It’s just another game for us on our journey,” Kidd said of the pending Game 7 on Sunday. “The goal is to win a championship. Sometimes you play until June, and sometimes things end early. The group in the locker room will always bounce back.”
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Feature image via Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports.