In the Mavericks’ 111-101 game 4 win over the Phoenix Suns, Luka Doncic beat Chris Paul and Chris Paul.
Under no circumstances more than 1.1 seconds before half-time when Doncic jumped for a defensive rebound and made sure to attract contact with Paul, who already faced foul issues with three in the first half but still went for the offensive scoreboard.
Doncic fell in court. Officials booed Paul for the bump. Doncic sat up, shouted, clapped his hands and shook his head.
Against one of the most annoying and intelligent veterans in the league, Doncic made sure his Mavericks overpowered Phoenix Sunday afternoon with those same qualities to equalize this 2-round second-round playoff series with a second straight win.
Doncic finished with 26 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds and four steals in 37 minutes, while Dorian Finney-Smith added his career best 3-point eight in 12 attempts as he led the Mavericks’ fast, crisp and efficient defense.
Paul, meanwhile, committed a 3:02 foul in the fourth quarter with just five points and four field goal attempts in 23 minutes.
In 439 best-of-seven NBA playoff series starting 2-0, only 31 teams (7.1%) made it past the deficit to advance. After two straight wins at the American Airlines Center, the Mavericks appear to be part of a distraught threat in what is now a best-of-three bout.
It also looked like Doncic had woken up to his early afternoon tip, tossed a Ferris-Bueller-style button, and felt ready to fight.
He drew his first postseason technical foul just 2:30 into the match after spending a couple of possessions barking at officer James Williams for not calling a foul when he missed a shot and hit the floor against Deandre Ayton and Jae Crowder.
Then he took a charge, drained a three on the other side and opened the biggest advantage of the Mavericks series in the first quarter.
Doncic faced problems with early fouls – two in the opening 6:16 – but manager Jason Kidd let him play.
The 23-year-old All-Star made sure to return some pain to the Suns.
Midway through the second quarter, Doncic worked on a change to have Frank Ntilikina draw second-placed Defender of the Year Mikail Bridges and leave him one-on-one against Paul.
Doncic immediately started pulling him back in the paint and, just before picking up the ball to go for the corner, drew enough contact from Paul to force the 37-year-old future Hall of Famer to the bench with three 1: 52 fouls ahead of half.
No doubt Doncic knew what was at stake – and, thanks to Paul, how to sell a collision – a couple of minutes later on that buzzer bounce before half-time.
Paul, who had never committed four fouls in a single half in his illustrious career, equalized his fifth dribbling foul in front of Jalen Brunson in transition just 2:28 after half-time and sat down for the remainder of the period.
He came back with 10:28 am remaining and checked out for the last time less than two minutes later.
When the referees whistled Paul for his sixth foul, Doncic immediately looked at Kidd on the sidelines, smiling and clapping.
Paul’s departure may have rekindled the Mavericks’ offensive tear.
After shooting 8 of 13 of three in the first quarter and 6 of 11 in the second, Dallas finished third at just 2 of 11 from behind the arc and failed to score in the first 3:51 of the period. Phoenix narrowed the 68-56 gap at the five-point interval (68-63) to just 3:30 from the start of the period.
Tension across the American Airlines Center with Suns ultra-clutch pressing? Not for the Mavericks.
Finney-Smith scored 3 consecutive points from opposite wings midway through the fourth quarter to restore the Mavericks lead to 14 points. Reggie Bullock, who set a 39-minute record for the team, and Brunson (18 points) added two more with about three minutes to go to restore a double-digit lead they haven’t given up.
Now we’re back in Phoenix for Game 5 on Tuesday, with a guaranteed homecoming for Game 6.
The Mavericks haven’t won at Phoenix’s Footprint Center since November 2019, but after taking an 11-game losing streak against the Suns with two emotional and emphatic home wins this week, there’s no doubt they can compete with the best in the NBA.
Find more Mavericks coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.