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Luka Doncic’s dominance, Suns’ ineptitude snowball as Mavs cruise to Game 7 win

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Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks reacts after making a three-point basket during the third quarter against the Phoenix Suns in Game Seven of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals at Footprint Center on Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Phoenix.

Luka Doncic (77) of the Dallas Mavericks reacts after making a three-point basket during the third quarter against the Phoenix Suns in Game Seven of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals at Footprint Center on Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Phoenix. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images/TNS)

PHOENIX — The first sign that Phoenix was in trouble was when Luka Doncic coolly swished his first three shots, but no one in Footprint Center fathomed what was to become.

Nor comprehend it when it did happen.

Dallas’ utter dominance. Phoenix’s epic ineptitude. The combination of extremes snowballed into a mind-boggling 123-90 Mavericks victory Sunday night in the clinching Game 7 of this Western Conference semifinal series.

First-year Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said he told his team before the game, ”Play hard, have fun, enjoy. You’re never guaranteed to come back. You’re never guaranteed to play in a Game 7 in your career, so just enjoy the moment, and execute the game plan.”

They did. And how.

Doncic hammered the reigning conference champion Suns with 35 points and 10 rebounds, and Spencer Dinwiddie poured in 30 points as No. 4 seed Mavericks advanced to the Western Conference finals, where they will face No. 3 seed Golden State beginning Wednesday in San Francisco.

In the franchise’s 42-season history, this is the fifth time the Mavericks have reached the conference final, joining the 1988, 2003, 2006 and 2011 playoff teams. Only the 2011 championship run, though, rivals the stunning nature of this one.

Midway through the fourth quarter, “Let’s Go Mavs!” chants of Dallas fans filled the otherwise silent arena where, 11 days earlier, fans had shouted “Suns in four! Suns in four!” as Phoenix took a 2-0 series lead.

Last June, Dallas’ postseason ended in a first-round Game 7 defeat in Los Angeles against the Clippers, blowing a 2-0 series lead and triggering a chain of events that resulted in the departures of general manager Donnie Nelson and 13th-year coach Rick Carlisle.

But at 7:08 p.m. Sunday West Coast time in arid Arizona, the Mavericks completed an improbable rally from a 2-0 series deficit, becoming only the 26th NBA team to do so, in 328 attempts.

The Mavericks had lost Games 1, 2 and 5 here by 9, 20 and 30 points and hadn’t won in Footprint Center since November of 2019, but, then, Dallas had lost 11 straight in Salt Lake City before winning twice there in its first-round series victory over the Jazz.

On this night Dallas took a 27-17 lead after one quarter, then, unbelievably, stretched its advantage to 57-27 at halftime and 92-50 after three quarters.

Early in the third quarter, Doncic had as many points, 27, as the entire Suns team.

The Suns All-Star backcourt of Devin Booker and Chris Paul shot a combined 0-for-11 in the first half, and Booker didn’t make his first basket until five minutes remained in the third quarter.

Dallas also improved Game 7 record to 5-3, including 2-3 on the road. Sunday’s upset arguably is the franchise’s biggest non-NBA Finals playoff victory since the other Game 7 road victory, at San Antonio in the 2006 conference.

In that series Dallas had blown a 3-1 lead and a 20-point cushion in Game 7, but Dirk Nowitzki amassed 37 points and 15 rebounds and delivered a clutch 3-point play with 21 seconds left to send the game to overtime.

This was the 114th Game 7 in NBA playoff history and only the 34th time (23.6%) that that road team won. But then this Mavericks team has defied odds and overcome obstacles all season.

The 16-18 start. Not having Kristaps Porzingis for 22 of the first 56 games. Having 11 players, including Doncic, miss a combined 60 games in December and January when a COVID-19 outbreak swept through the roster.

Porzingis was traded on Feb. 10 for Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans, and the Mavericks finished the regular season by winning 36 of their final 48.


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