DALLAS (AP) — Luka Doncic got the help he and the Dallas Mavericks needed — from Jalen Brunson on the offense and from himself, Reggie Bullock and others on the defense.
The Dallas superstar had 26 points and 13 rebounds, and the Mavericks mounted the defensive pressure to come back in their Western Conference semifinal series with Phoenix, beating the Suns 103-94 on Friday night.
Ruining Chris Paul’s 37th birthday, the Mavericks forced the 17-year-old pro into his most sales in each half of a playoff game with seven before the break.
Dallas narrowed the Suns lead to 2-1, ending an 11-game loss streak against Phoenix, including the regular season. Game 4 is Sunday in Dallas.
“Energy, man,” Doncic said of Dallas’ best defense of the series. “The crowd gets you going. The energy and the execution were better. That’s what we have to do every game.”
Paul was out of business after halftime, but the Suns eventually struggled with their shot when they didn’t turn it around. Phoenix shot 45% and finished a run of at least 50% shooting in the playoffs after eight games.
“It felt like all seven of them were back to back,” said Paul, whose career high for a game in the playoffs is eight turnovers. “If I don’t turn the ball around like that, I feel like it’s a different game.”
Jae Crowder scored 19 for Phoenix, but the Mavericks limited Devin Booker’s impact in much the same way as Paul. Booker scored 18, but was only 2 of 7 within the 3-point line, and Paul had 12 on just nine shots (five made) in the Suns’ lowest-scoring game of the season.
Doncic just missed a triple-double with nine assists, while Brunson led Dallas by 28 points after struggling in two defeats in Phoenix when Doncic averaged 40 points but didn’t get enough help.
“I’ve found a way to come back tonight,” Brunson said. “I just can’t be satisfied with this. Sunday will be another brutal match. I have to bring the same energy, the same intensity, the same everything.”
A clambering defense in Dallas was the biggest difference, starting at the opening tip with Bullock shadowing Paul everywhere. The Mavericks got into the passing lanes, including when Spencer Dinwiddie tiptoed down the sidelines after stealing for a layup in the transition.
Paul had six turnovers in the first 16 minutes, including one when he simply lost the ball out of bounds while trying to make his way into the basket. The only turnover in Dallas before halftime was an offensive foul on Doncic, who didn’t like the call enough to… mimic what he thought were flop moves by Paul.
The Suns took aim at Doncic’s defense as they shot 84% to get away in the fourth quarter of a 20-point win in Game 2. The 23-year-old Slovenian dove to the field early in this game and won a fight with Deandre Ayton for a loose ball.
“When you see your best player do that, it kind of sets the mood,” said Dorian Finney-Smith.
Doncic had to leave early in the fourth quarter on his fifth foul, and the Suns narrowed a deficit from 18 points earlier in the second half to nine just after he came back.
Brunson answered with free throws to narrow the lead to double digits, and the Mavericks got enough stops to stay comfortably in front.
The lead was eight when Doncic prevented Crowder from stealing in midfield with one minute to go, leading to a corner 3 with van Bullock, who scored 15. He and Finney-Smith, who scored 14, each had four 3s.
“It wasn’t like us,” Booker said. “You can appreciate them. They came out hard, played desperately. That’s that. We have a series.”
Suns: Mikal Bridges got a technical foul late in the first half and Paul got one early in the second half. Both ended up in time-outs. … Ayton had 16 points and 11 rebounds. … Torrey Craig was out with a bruise to the right elbow. He played sparingly in the first two games of the series.
Mavericks: Bullock, who spent a lot of time guarding Paul in the first half, was seen as questionable with a rib injury at half time. … Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley, a former Dallas assistant, attended the game. Two of his players, Cole Anthony and Wendell Carter Jr., were with him.
The Mavericks had favorable possession early in the second half when the ball appeared to go out of bounds. Officials decided on Dallas Ball, and as the Suns tried to beg officials to reconsider, Brunson quickly jumped to Finney-Smith, who hit a 3 without a dribble.