PHOENIX – As Luka Doncic lit up the scoreboard in Sunday’s Game 7, burying the top-seeded Phoenix Suns by halftime, the Dallas Mavericks’ superstar broke out in laughter after some of his buckets.
The Mavericks will be a surprise participant in the Western Conference finals, claiming the right to face the Golden State Warriors by rolling to a 123-90 road rout of the Suns. And Doncic has never had more fun in his NBA career than he did while destroying a Phoenix team that followed up winning the West a year ago by posting by far the best record in the league this season.
“You can’t get this smile off my face right now,” Doncic said after he had 35 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two steals in only 30 minutes, sitting out the entire fourth quarter because the win was already secured. “I’m just really happy.
“Honestly, I think we deserve this. We’ve been playing hard the whole series. Maybe a couple of games here we weren’t ourselves, but we came here with a statement in Game 7. We believed. Our locker room believed. Everybody believed. So I’m just happy.”
Dallas, which was coming off its first playoff series victory since the franchise’s 2011 championship run, was a decided underdog in the conference semifinals before falling in an 0-2 hole with a pair of road losses. The Mavs responded by winning four out of five games, putting the finishing touches on the series by humiliating Phoenix on its home court.
The Footprint Center crowd booed the Suns at the halftime buzzer — when the 30-point deficit was the largest ever at the half of a Game 7, according to ESPN Stats & Information research — and frequently in the second half.
Doncic seized control of the game seconds into the opening possession, swishing a turnaround jumper over Phoenix center Deandre Ayton, the player the Suns selected over Doncic with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 draft. Doncic finished the first half with 27 points, matching Phoenix’s total, and becoming the first player in at least 25 seasons to equal or exceed an opponent’s scoring in a half of a playoff game.
“He’s the type of guy who wants to throw the knockout punch,” said Mavs sixth man Spencer Dinwiddie, who scored a career playoff-high 30 points on 11-of-15 shooting, combining with Doncic to become the first pair of teammates to each score 30 in a Game 7 since Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in the 2002 Western Conference finals. “So I give him credit for that. He’s never scared of the moment.”
Doncic cited Dallas’ dominant defensive performance, not his individual brilliance, as the primary reason he scored as many points in the first half as the Suns. Dallas, led by forwards Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith on the defensive end, held Phoenix to 24.4% shooting from the floor in the first half, when the Suns star trio of Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton combined to go 1-of-15.
Paul’s first bucket didn’t come until the Suns were down 40 midway through the third quarter. Booker didn’t score from the floor until soon after that.
“It’s not on me. It was the whole team today,” said Doncic, who averaged 32.6 points, 9.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists in the seven games, leading all players on both teams in each of the three categories during the series. “Today was just incredible. I’ve never seen a performance on Game 7 like this. I can’t remember the last time that somebody went to the away game and did this, so I’m really proud of what we did today.”
It’s understandable that the 23-year-old Doncic does not recall the Philadelphia Warriors’ 39-point Game 7 win over the St. Louis Bombers in 1948. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that is the lone Game 7 road rout in league history that was more lopsided than the Mavs’ blowout of the Suns.
“We believe, and it showed today, but we’ve got to go through this journey,” first-year Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. “I hate when we label or cap something. We don’t know how far this will go. That’s why we’ve got to play them. That’s why we showed up to play this evening.
“No one gave us a chance. A lot of people said it was going to be a blowout. Well, they were right, but they didn’t have us on the winning side.”
A major reason for the Mavs’ belief was because of Doncic’s track record of performing spectacularly in pressure situations. He had 46 points and 14 assists in a Game 7 loss last season against the LA Clippers. He helped keep this series alive with 33 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and four steals with the Mavs facing elimination in Thursday’s Game 6.
“He’s built for these moments,” said Mavs guard Jalen Brunson, who had 24 points in Sunday’s win. He joked that Doncic has been dominating high-stakes games since he was nine years old, a nod to the championships Doncic won with Real Madrid and the Slovenian national team as a teenager.