In the Mavericks’ 111-101 Game 4 win over the Phoenix Suns, Luka Doncic out-Chris Pauled Chris Paul.
In no instance more than 1.1 seconds before halftime, when Doncic leaped for a defensive rebound and made sure to draw some contact from Paul, who already faced foul trouble with three in the first half but still went for the offensive board.
Doncic tumbled to the court. Officials whistled Paul for the bump. Doncic sat up, shouted, clapped and shook his head.
Against one of the most pesky, intelligent, clutch veterans in the league, Doncic made sure his Mavericks overpowered Phoenix on Sunday afternoon with those same qualities to tie this second-round playoff series at 2 with a second consecutive win.
Doncic finished with 26 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds and four steals in 37 minutes while Dorian Finney-Smith added a career-best eight 3-pointers in 12 attempts while leading the Mavericks’ fast, crisp, efficient defense.
Paul, meanwhile, fouled out 3:02 into the fourth quarter with just five points and four field-goal attempts in 23 minutes.
In 439 best-of-seven NBA playoff series that have started 2-0, just 31 teams (7.1%) have overcome the deficit to advance. After two consecutive wins in American Airlines Center, the Mavericks look the part of an upset threat in what’s now a best-of-three matchup.
Doncic also looked like he woke up for the early afternoon tip, threw on a Ferris-Bueller-style button down and felt ready to fight.
He drew his first technical foul of the postseason just 2:30 into the game after spending a couple of possessions barking at official 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 end and opened the Mavericks’ largest first-quarter lead of the series.
Doncic faced early foul trouble — two in the first 6:16 — but coach Jason Kidd let him play through it.
The 23-year-old All-Star made sure to return some grief to the Suns.
Midway through the second quarter, Doncic worked a switch to have Frank Ntilikina draw Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Mikail Bridges away and leave him one-on-one against Paul.
Doncic immediately started to back him down in the paint, and just before he picked up the ball to dish to the corner, he drew enough contact from Paul to force the 37-year-old future Hall of Famer to the bench with three fouls 1 :52 before half.
No doubt Doncic knew the stakes — and, thanks to Paul, how to sell a collision — a couple minutes later on that pre-halftime-buzzer rebound.
Paul, who’d never drawn four fouls in a single half in his illustrious career, drew his fifth foul for dribbling in front of Jalen Brunson in transition just 2:28 after halftime and sat the remainder of the period.
He returned with 10:28 remaining — and checked out for the final time less than two minutes later.
When officials whistled Paul for his sixth foul, Doncic immediately looked at Kidd on the sideline, smiling and clapping his hands.
Paul’s departure might’ve reignited the Mavericks’ offensive tear.
After shooting 8 of 13 from three in the first quarter and 6 of 11 in the second, Dallas finished the third just 2 of 11 from behind the arc and failed to score in the first 3:51 of the period. Phoenix cut the 68-56 halftime gap to five points (68-63) just 3:30 into the period.
Tension throughout American Airlines Center with the ultra-clutch Suns pressing? Not for the Mavericks.
Finney-Smith hit consecutive 3-pointers from opposite wings midway through the fourth quarter to push the Mavericks’ lead back to 14 points. Reggie Bullock, who logged a team-high 39 minutes, and Brunson (18 points) added two more with about three minutes remaining to restore a double-digit advantage they didn’t relinquish.
Now back to Phoenix for Game 5 on Tuesday — with a guaranteed return home for Game 6.
The Mavericks haven’t won in Phoenix’s Footprint Center since November 2019, but after snapping an 11-game losing streak to the Suns with two emotional, emphatic home victories this week, little question remains that they can contend with the NBA’s best.