The Dallas Mavericks broke through at home Friday night and beat the Phoenix Suns in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal series.
They’ll try to even the best-of-seven series when they host the Suns again Sunday afternoon.
“The energy and the execution were better,” Mavericks star Luka Doncic said of the team’s dramatic improvement after two losses in Phoenix. “That’s what we’ve got to do every game.
“We’re going to believe until the end. Somebody’s got to get to four wins, and no matter if you’re down or you’re up, you’ve got to believe.”
Dallas won 103-94 after allowing an average of 125 points in the first two games. The improved defense was triggered by a swarming attack that slowed down Suns guard Chris Paul as Phoenix had its lowest-scoring game of the season.
Paul scored 19 points in Game 1 and had 28 in Game 2 in which he made 9 of 10 second-half field-goal attempts. But Reggie Bullock set a different tone Friday against Paul, who committed seven first-half turnovers as the Mavericks ended an 11-game losing streak against Phoenix.
“Reggie’s done this for us all season,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. “He’s always been asked to guard one of the two best players. He never complains. He gives everything.”
Doncic finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds as he got more offensive support than he had in the two losses when he scored a combined 80 points.
Jalen Brunson recovered from two poor games in Phoenix to lead Dallas with 28 points and three other Mavs scored in double figures.
“I found a way to bounce back,” Brunson said. “I just can’t be satisfied with this. Sunday’s going to be another brutal game. I have to bring the same energy, the same intensity, the same everything.”
Paul, who turned 37 on Friday, matched the number of turnovers he had in Games 1 and 2 combined even though he didn’t have a turnover in the second half Friday.
“It felt like all seven of ’em were back to back to back,” Paul said. “If I don’t turn the ball over like that I feel like it’s a different game.”
The Suns shot just 44.7 percent from the floor, the first time in nine playoff games they failed to make at least half of their shots.
“It wasn’t like us,” said Phoenix guard Devin Booker, who scored 18 points. “You can credit them. They came out played hard, played desperate. That’s that. We’ve got a series.”
Jae Crowder led the Suns with 19 points and Paul finished with 12 points after taking just nine shots (making five).
Dallas expects a performance from Paul on Sunday that resembles what he did in the first two games more than what happened in Game 3.
“His basketball IQ is off the charts,” Kidd said. “And he understands at this point of his career what’s at stake and that’s winning the championship. And that’s what he’s going for.
“He understands how to play the game. He picks his spots. He doesn’t have to do it for 48 minutes. He doesn’t have to do it for 36 minutes. He understands when it’s winning time and he’s delivered.”
–Field Level Media