The Dallas Mavericks have faith in Luka Doncic to put a disappointing Game 1 behind him when they meet the Golden State Warriors again on Friday.

Mavs superstar Doncic was tightly marshalled by the Warriors on Wednesday, with the Slovenian only managing 20 points on six-of-18 shooting.

Andrew Wiggins was the primary defender on Doncic, who had seven turnovers and was also limited to seven rebounds and four assists in a 112-87 defeat.

However, team-mate Spencer Dinwiddie has full confidence that one of the best players in the NBA has the ability to be back at his best in Game 2.

"He's just brilliant. I think he's seen every defense from probably playing professionally overseas when he was younger," Dinwiddie told reporters.

"If you've seen it before, you've probably developed counters for it.

"So, now, it's just about continuing to improve game by game, and he's one of the best in the business at doing that."

The sentiment was echoed by Mavs coach Jason Kidd, who said: "[Doncic] understands what [the Warriors] are trying to do, and he'll be better, we believe that in that locker room."

Doncic was still the second-highest scorer in Game 1, behind only Warriors talisman Stephen Curry, who had 21 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.

Golden State Warriors wing Klay Thompson emphasised that it all starts on the defensive end, while highlighting the performance of Andrew Wiggins after his side's 112-87 Game 1 blowout of the Dallas Mavericks.

The Warriors had seven players score in double-figures, led by Stephen Curry with a game-high 21 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, along with tying for the game-high with four assists.

While the Warriors' offense was strong, shooting 56.1 per cent from the field, it was their defense that won them the game, holding the Mavericks to 18 points in the first quarter and igniting a 15-4 run to start the third.

A main talking point from the series opener was the impressive performance of Andrew Wiggins, scoring 19 points while being the primary defender on Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic, holding him to 20 points on six-of-18 shooting with seven turnovers.

Speaking after the game, Thompson discussed the narrative that he is not the defender he once was and what he thinks makes the Warriors defense so good.

"I think our length, starting with Andrew [Wiggins] – he was moving them puppies tonight," he said.

"I still take pride in my defense, no matter what people say about if I've 'lost it' or not, I still think I'm a very good defender. Steph is in the [passing] lanes, obviously Draymond [Green], we can count on him every night on that side of the ball.

"I don't really pay attention to the noise [about criticism of his defense] – I know what I'm capable of, and I know what my team-mates are capable of. I knew we were able to do what we did tonight – it was just going to take a lot of focus and trusting each other.

"I'm trying. It's hard. Marking the best player every night for 40 minutes is not easy, and going to get buckets on the other end, but it's something I love to do. 

"All the best two-guards to ever play the game played both sides of the ball – whether it was Mike [Jordan], Kobe [Bryant], [Dwyane Wade], guys I really idolised as a kid – they all competed on that side, so I just try to follow the same mould."

Thompson went on to touch on the mediocre performance from Doncic, before showering Wiggins with further praise, saying he is happy people are finally seeing "who he really is".

"Luka is obviously one of the best players in the world," he said. "It didn't help that they played two days ago, off that emotional high of winning a Game 7, so we expect them to come back with a much better effort on Friday. 

"That's why [Wiggins] was the number one pick [of the 2014 NBA Draft]. You can't teach that athleticism, you can't teach that length or his timing. 

"I'm just happy the world is getting to see who he really is – an incredible wing player – and he will be like this for the next 10 years.

"I think him being here, he's allowed to be himself. We have so many great, talented players that it can be somebody's night and the ball will find them. 

"Andrew was incredible tonight, I can't say enough good things about him. 

"He makes my job so much easier, I don't have to check the best player every night – after what I've been through, that's a nice change of pace. He doesn't seem to get tired, his outside shot has greatly improved, and he's just coming into his own.

"It's just one game, and we can feel good now, but [the Mavericks] were down 2-0 and won their series last round."

Warriors coach Steve Kerr echoed Thompson's sentiments about Wiggins.

"I thought [Wiggins] was fantastic," he said. "Doncic is as difficult a cover as there is in this league, and we just asked Wiggs to try to hound him and guard him as best as he could. 

"He did a fantastic job – Wiggs is just a huge part of our defense and our team. I thought he was great offensively as well, so great night for Andrew."

When asked about the job the Warriors defense did on him, Doncic was respectful but had little to add.

"They did a great job – that's it, that's all I have to say. They did a great job," he said. 

"It's one game, that's what the playoffs is about. Whether you lose by one or you lose by 40, it's a loss, so we just have to get ready for Game 2 now."

The Golden State Warriors were spectacular in the opening game of their Western Conference Finals series against the Dallas Mavericks, leading throughout for a 112-87 win.

Defensive stops were the theme for the Warriors, holding the Mavericks to just 18 points in the opening quarter to open up a 10-point lead after the first frame.

The Mavericks trimmed the margin to 35-33 halfway through the second quarter, but from that point on it was all Warriors, led by Andrew Wiggins' highest-scoring playoff half of his career as he had 15 to lead his side to a 54-45 half-time advantage.

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson took over in the third period, combining for 20 of the Warriors' 34 points to help their side jump ahead by 20 points, allowing the hosts to coast home unchallenged in the last.

Curry finished with game-highs in points and rebounds, with 21 on seven-of-16 shooting and 12 respectively, while Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins chipped in 19 points each on a combined 16-of-29 shooting.

Six Warriors players finished with at least three assists, and as a team they had 24 assists on 46 field goals, while the Mavericks had 14 assists from their 31 field goals.

Luka Doncic looked primed for a big game early on, but struggled to score the ball efficiently, finishing with a team-high 20 points on six-of-18 shooting to go with seven turnovers and four assists. The Mavericks had their worst shooting performance of these playoffs at 36 per cent (31-of-86), and 22 per cent from long-range (11-of-48).

Golden State will host Game 2 on Friday, before Game 3 heads to Dallas on Sunday.

Michael Jordan has company at last.

The Chicago Bulls legend was for a long time the only player to average more than 30 points per game in the NBA playoffs, yet Luka Doncic is now writing his own name into the history books in Dallas.

The Mavericks superstar has a long way to go before he can come anywhere close to matching Jordan's achievements, but he has been spectacular in scoring 32.7 points per game through his first four postseason series.

Not only is Jordan (33.4 points per game) the sole player to top Doncic's mark across a playoff career, he alone since 1963-64 joins the former EuroLeague sensation in scoring more than 750 points over his first 23 postseason games (823 for Jordan, 751 for Doncic).

These look to be early steps in a truly great NBA career for Doncic, and he could yet end this season as a champion.

The Slovenian was outgunned taking on the Los Angeles Clippers on his own in the first round in consecutive years, but the Mavericks made bold moves this year – most notably appointing Jason Kidd and trading away Kristaps Porzingis – and are now in the Western Conference Finals.

Although Doncic averaged 32.6 points as the Mavericks beat the Phoenix Suns in the second round, he crucially had help, now surrounded with defense and shooting.

Dallas held the Suns to their three lowest points totals of the season (94 in Game 3, 90 in Game 7, 86 in Game 6), while Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie became the first team-mates to each score 30 points in a Game 7 since Los Angeles Lakers greats Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal against the Sacramento Kings in 2002.

As the tournament heats up, Doncic will need all the assistance he can get – but any Mavericks title run surely depends on their main man being the best player in every series.

That becomes a little tougher when Dallas are faced next with playoff veterans the Golden State Warriors.

This is the 10th year of the Steph-Klay-Draymond Warriors, in which time they have been to five NBA Finals, won three championships and seen off a whole host of superstars.

There are plenty of examples for Doncic to learn from then as he prepares to take on the greatest team of the past decade.

LeBron James (33.0 points per game, 7-15 record)

Ja Morant, who scored 35 points against Golden State in last year's play-in tournament, averaged 38.3 points across three games in the 2022 second round until a knee injury ended his series and, ultimately, the Memphis Grizzlies' season. That is the highest mark posted against the Warriors in the past 10 years, albeit with a limited sample size.

Among those to play 10 or more games, James (33.0 points per game) leads the way. Equally as impressive, the four-time MVP has the most total playoff points versus the Warriors since 2012 (727) – despite spending the bulk of his career in the Eastern Conference.

 

James did score 22 in a Lakers play-in win over the Warriors in 2021, but all of their 22 postseason encounters have come across four Finals series. Unfortunately, while James has excelled, his teams have not fared quite so well.

Prior to Morant's explosion, James accounted for three of the four highest series averages against the Warriors over this period – 35.8 in 2015, 34.0 in 2018 and 33.6 in 2017 – but the Cleveland Cavaliers lost on each occasion. Their one Finals win came in 2016, when James scored 29.7 points per game.

James had a little more help in 2016 – we'll come on to that – and the Cavaliers' various failures perhaps best illustrate the folly of Doncic attempting to take on a super-team alone.

The 51 points James scored in Game 1 in 2018 were the most against the Warriors in a single playoff game in the past 10 years, but he was let down by his team-mates – we're looking at you, J.R. Smith – and Cleveland not only lost that series opener but were then swept.

James Harden (29.8 points per game, 7-16 record)

Harden's playoff career is best known for his repeated failures to get the better of the Warriors, losing all of his four series against Golden State while on the Houston Rockets, yet only James has scored more points in such matchups since 2012 (685).

Counted among Harden's 23 postseason games against the Warriors in the past 10 years – only Iman Shumpert (24) has played more – are three 41-plus-point performances. James alone can top that (five games).

However, Harden has also failed to reach 20 points on five occasions, twice shooting worse than 20 per cent from the field in 2015. Consistency is the key at this time of year, and Harden has not had that.

The Rockets blew their biggest opportunity to make a first Finals since 1995 in 2018, when they led the Warriors 3-2 in the Conference Finals before Chris Paul went down injured. Houston lost Game 6 and Game 7, collapsing dramatically in the first of the two defeats as Harden did not contribute a single fourth-quarter point.

Doncic, unsurprisingly, has never shot worse than 20 per cent in the playoffs, while his best shooting performance (63.2 per cent) came in Game 7 against the Suns and his career-high points total came in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Clippers (46).

Kyrie Irving (27.7 points per game, 5-8 record)

Given Irving was the Cavaliers' second man behind James, it is difficult to draw a direct comparison with Doncic. But the point guard's performances show the sort of levels Dinwiddie or Jalen Brunson may have to reach to beat the Warriors if they are at the top of their game.

Irving's 2015 Finals debut ended in Game 1 when he sustained a fractured kneecap, but he returned in 2016 and played a huge role in the Cavaliers' historic win.

Cleveland were trailing 3-1 heading into Game 5 – a deficit that had never previously been overturned – only for Irving and James each to score 41 points, becoming the first team-mates to both top 40 in a Finals game. Irving shot 70.8 per cent from the field.

As the Cavaliers recovered to win 4-3, with Irving shooting a decisive three late in Game 7, his usage rate was a lofty 30.7 per cent for the series, taking responsibility off James' shoulders. Brunson is the Mavericks' second man, although his usage rate of 29.7 per cent was boosted a little by playing three games without the ball-dominant Doncic.

Damian Lillard (27.6 points per game, 1-12 record)

If nothing else, Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers provide an example of how not to play the Warriors. Only former Blazers team-mate Rodney Hood (0-12) has a worse record in playoff games against Golden State in the past 10 years.

A 43.7 per cent career shooter, Lillard has averaged 38.7 per cent from the field against the Warriors in the postseason. Sure, he has scored 27.6 points, but it has taken him 22.1 field goal attempts per game.

When Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are on the other side of the floor, you cannot afford to be so inefficient. Lillard's sole victory in 2016 came courtesy of his one 40-point performance – while Curry was out injured.

Only Allen Iverson (26.5) and Jordan (25.1) have attempted more field goals per playoff game than Doncic (24.3), so there is definitely scope for the Warriors to profit if he cools off – not that there has been a great deal of evidence to suggest that is likely.

Kawhi Leonard (21.9 points per game, 8-5 record)

The man who has occupied Doncic's playoff nightmares in the previous two seasons surely provides the blueprint for how to enjoy postseason success against the Warriors.

Leonard has played on two of the four teams to eliminate Golden State from the playoffs in the past 10 years; he has not lost a series to the Warriors – missing the entirety of their 4-1 defeat of the San Antonio Spurs in 2018 – and boasts the best winning percentage of any player to face Steve Kerr's winning machine on more than 10 occasions over this period.

The 2019 Finals showed the sort of standard that has been required to get the better of the Warriors in the past decade, with Leonard dominant as the outstanding player on the Toronto Raptors. He led the Raptors in points (171), rebounds (59) and steals (12) versus the Warriors, ranking second in assists (25) and blocks (seven).

 

Doncic made strides on defense over the course of the Suns series, but whether he is capable of such an all-round display is very much up for debate.

Grant Williams scored a career-high 27 points as the Boston Celtics advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, defeating the reigning NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks 109-81 in Game 7 on Sunday.

Williams went seven-of-18 from the perimeter to lead the Celtics, with four others scoring in double digits in Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Payton Pritchard, who added 14 points off the bench.

The 23-year-old's seventh triple of the night came at an important time, too, with the Bucks starting to gather momentum at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Tatum was pivotal on both ends despite seven turnovers, putting up 23 points on 50 per cent shooting, eight assists and six rebounds.

The Celtics were able to restrict Giannis Antetokounmpo from scoring easily, with the reigning finals MVP getting 25 points but on 10-of-26 shooting, along with his 20 rebounds and nine assists.

With the series-deciding win, the Celtics have set up a rematch of the 2020 Eastern Conference finals, facing the first-seeded Miami Heat.

Doncic dominates as Mavs demolish Suns

Both of the contestants in the 2021 NBA finals were knocked out in same night in Game 7s on Sunday, with the Dallas Mavericks blowing out the first-seeded Phoenix Suns 123-90.

The Suns scored a disappointingly low 27 points on their home floor in the first half, as threes rained in on the other end, and the Mavs went into the main change with a 30-point lead.

Chris Paul and Devin Booker went missing when they were needed most, generating little in terms of dribble penetration and combining for 21 points on seven-of-22 shooting.

Conversely, Luka Doncic had come into Game 7 with shooting splits of 45.7 and 29.6 per cent but lit the Suns up with the season on the line, finishing with 35 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

More importantly, Doncic was able to get his teammates good looks, with Dallas shooting an 48.7 per cent from the perimeter.

The Mavericks will now face the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals. 

It almost feels as though using the Ron Burgundy 'boy, that escalated quickly' GIF would be a little too on the nose.

The NBA Conference semi-finals proved to be just as dramatic as we all hoped, with two of them going all the way to all or nothing Game 7s.

In the East, despite a bit of a comeback once Joel Embiid returned from injury, the Philadelphia 76ers were unable to halt the number one seed Miami Heat, while defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks are also out after going down in Game 7 to the Boston Celtics.

Over in the West, the Golden State Warriors overcame the Memphis Grizzlies in a tempestuous series defined by Ja Morant's knee injury, while a sensational performance from Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks saw them destroy the Phoenix Suns in their own backyard in Game 7 on Sunday.

They may not be the Conference Finals many predicted, but they will be absolutely covered in compelling narratives, so Stats Perform is here to take a look at what should be two fascinating contests to determine this year's NBA finalists.

Eastern Conference Final

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics

Perhaps this pairing was to be expected given they are the one and two seeds respectively in the East, but with Giannis Antetokounmpo in their corner and an NBA championship to defend, many will have expected the Bucks to get the better of Boston.

The Celtics showed their mettle, though, in particular Jayson Tatum, who is averaging 28.3 points per game (PPG) in the postseason.

Tatum's 6.1 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game are supported by an impressive average of four turnovers as the 24-year-old has set about trying to drag his team all the way.

He has not been alone though, with Jaylen Brown averaging 22.2 PPG, while an unlikely hero emerged in the 109-81 win against the Bucks on Sunday as Grant Williams top-scored with 27, the first time he has done so for the Celtics. Williams hit seven of the Celtics' 22 made three-pointers in an incredible shooting barrage.

 

The Heat took full advantage of an Embiid-less Sixers in the opening games of their series with Philadelphia before losing their 2-0 lead, only to see it out 4-2.

Jimmy Butler shone throughout and is averaging 28.7 PPG in the playoffs so far, as well as 5.4 assists and 7.5 rebounds.

His 32 in Game 6 helped ease any nerves about going to a decider, while even the 40 he managed in defeat in Game 4 made the Sixers work harder than they should have had to.

The Celtics won two of their three meetings with the Heat in the regular season, but Miami were triumphant last time out in late March, winning 106-98 at TD Garden thanks to 24 from Butler and 23 from Kyle Lowry, who may not feature in Game 1.

Lowry injured his hamstring in Game 3 of the Heat’s first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, and is a doubt for the start of this series.

Western Conference Final

Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors

Can you stop Luka Doncic, or do you just watch in awe and hope the ball pops before he can score?

That probably won't be the question Steve Kerr and the Warriors will be asking, but they will certainly have to come up with some way of dealing with the dangerous Slovenian.

Doncic is averaging 31.5 PPG from his 10 playoff games so far and was unsurprisingly trending on social media on Sunday as his own personal scoring was such that he was single-handedly matching the Phoenix Suns in the first half at Footprint Center.

His 6.6 assists and 10.1 rebounds per game in the postseason also show how dominant he has been, but that should not take away from the fine work going on elsewhere in Jason Kidd's team.

Having had to carry the Mavericks through most of the first round against the Utah Jazz in Doncic's absence, Jalen Brunson demonstrated his worth with 24 against the Suns in Game 7, while Spencer Dinwiddie posted 30 points of his own too.

 

The Warriors are unsurprisingly just as good at spreading the wealth, even if Stephen Curry – like Doncic – is leading the way with his 26.9 PPG in the playoffs.

The three-point assassin is tied with team-mate Klay Thompson for shots from beyond the arc, with both sinking 42 efforts in the postseason so far, which emphasises the importance of Thompson as well, who has averaged 20.4 PPG.

Jordan Poole is playing his part too with 19.3 PPG, including a 50 per cent success rate on field goal attempts, making 74 from 148.

Dallas may have the upper hand going into this one, not just because of their complete undressing of the Suns in Game 7, but also because they won three of the four games against Golden State in the regular season, with Doncic scoring 41 in their last meeting in early March.

Luka Doncic lauded the belief in the Dallas Mavericks dressing room after playing a starring role in a 123-90 thrashing of the Phoenix Suns.

The Mavs advanced to the Western Conference finals, where they will face the Golden State Warriors, courtesy of a dominant showing in Game 7 against the top-seeded Suns.

Doncic had as many points as Phoenix in the first half, making a mockery of the Mavs' status as supposed underdogs.

And it came as no surprise to Doncic, who finished with 35 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

“I know we were the underdogs,” he said.

"Everybody had the Suns to win this one, but the whole locker room believed and that's what won us the game."

Asked whether he knew he alone had matched the home team's total first-half points tally, Doncic said: "Yeah, of course.

"I'm having fun. I always say when I'm having fun it is the way I best play.

"Honestly, I'm really happy, man. You can't get this smile off my face right now.

"I think we deserve this. We were playing hard the whole series – maybe a couple of games here we were not ourselves.

"But we knew we came here with a statement Game 7. We believed, our locker room believed, everybody believed, so I'm just happy."

Grant Williams scored a career-high 27 points as the Boston Celtics advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, defeating the reigning NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks 109-81 in Game 7 on Sunday.

Williams went seven-of-18 from the perimeter to lead the Celtics, with four others scoring in double digits in Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Payton Pritchard, who added 14 points off the bench.

The 23-year-old's seventh triple of the night came at an important time, too, with the Bucks starting to gather momentum at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Tatum was pivotal on both ends despite seven turnovers, putting up 23 points on 50 per cent shooting, eight assists and six rebounds.

The Celtics were able to restrict Giannis Antetokounmpo from scoring easily, with the reigning finals MVP getting 25 points but on 10-of-26 shooting, along with his 20 rebounds and nine assists.

With the series-deciding win, the Celtics have set up a rematch of the 2020 Eastern Conference finals, facing the first-seeded Miami Heat.

Doncic dominates as Mavs demolish Suns

Both of the contestants in the 2021 NBA finals were knocked out in same night in Game 7s on Sunday, with the Dallas Mavericks blowing out the first-seeded Phoenix Suns 123-84.

The Suns scored a disappointingly low 27 points on their home floor in the first half, as threes rained in on the other end, and the Mavs went into the main change with a 30-point lead.

Chris Paul and Devin Booker went missing when they were needed most, generating little in terms of dribble penetration and combining for 21 points on seven-of-22 shooting.

Conversely, Luka Doncic had come into Game 7 with shooting splits of 45.7 and 29.6 per cent but lit the Suns up with the season on the line, finishing with 35 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

More importantly, Doncic was able to get his teammates good looks, with Dallas shooting an 48.7 per cent from the perimeter.

The Mavericks will now face the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals. 

The Miami Heat progressed to the Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday, comfortably defeating the Philadelphia 76ers 99-90.

After the Golden State Warriors' anaemic performance in a closeout game on the road, the Heat showed no such trepidation and led by 20 at one stage, taking control in the third quarter with a 16-2 scoring run.

Jimmy Butler scored 14 points on six-of-nine shooting in that period as Miami put the proverbial foot on Philadelphia's throat, finishing with 32 points, eight rebounds and four assists against his former team.

James Harden went missing in the second half with Philadelphia's season on the line, meanwhile, taking only two shot attempts for the half while committing three turnovers to go with his four assists.

Now in their second ECF in three seasons, the Heat will face the winner of the series between the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks.

Mavs take Suns to deciding game

The Dallas Mavericks are taking the Western Conference's first seed to seven games, after they blew the Phoenix Suns out 113-86.

Luka Doncic was very close to a triple-double with his side's season on the line, but his fingerprints were nevertheless all over Game 6, finishing with 33 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Doncic's ability to find his teammates for open looks has been consistent in the series but their ability to knock them down has fluctuated. On Thursday, the Mavs shot 41 per cent from the perimeter for the win.

Devin Booker went two-of-10 with the game in the balance in the second and third quarters, as the Suns hoped to close the series out, finishing with 19 points on six-of-17 shooting.

Phoenix simply did not take care of the basketball, coughing it up 22 times with the Mavs scoring 29 points in transition off those turnovers.

The Miami Heat moved a step closer to progressing to the Eastern Conference Finals, rolling past the Philadelphia 76ers in a 120-85 win on Tuesday.

The Heat comfortably took a 3-2 series lead as the Sixers collapsed in the third quarter, going three-of-12 from the floor for the period aside from Joel Embiid.

While the Heat started strong, Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey were taken out with eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Jimmy Butler was able to get to his spots on the floor, going nine-of-15 shooting on the way to 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists for the night.

As a team, Miami had a 20-point advantage (56-36) for points in the paint while seven players scored in double figures in the 35-point win, the joint largest margin of victory in the playoffs this season.

Suns surge in second-half to Game 5 win

The Phoenix Suns also claimed an important Game 5 victory on Tuesday, defeating the Dallas Mavericks 110-80.

Similar to the Philadelphia 76ers in the earlier game, the Mavericks started out ice cold and turned the ball over following the main break, giving up a double-digit lead to start the third quarter.

What was a one-point margin lead for the Suns at half-time quickly blew out to 17 by the middle of the third, when Deandre Ayton scored to make it 67-50.

The Western Conference's first seed did not look back from there, as Devin Booker finished the game with 28 points, seven rebounds and two steals.

Dribble penetration and offensive rebounding created good looks for the Suns, who shot 37.5 per cent from beyond the arc, while the Mavs conversely shot at 25 per cent.

Luka Doncic admitted he exaggerated contact from Chris Paul to get him into foul trouble after the Dallas Mavericks' 111-101 win over the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.

Doncic came up with 26 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds in the Game 4 win but the Mavs' win and levelling of their playoff series was aided by Chris Paul fouling out early in the fourth quarter.

Doncic was key factor in that regard, tumbling towards the baseline after both went up for a rebound and earning a fourth foul for Paul just before half-time.

The 23-year-old declared his respect for Paul and his impact on the Suns, but also hinted he gave the notorious flopper a taste of his own medicine with the tumble and ensuing exchange between the two.

"He [Paul] is one of the best point guards this league has ever had," Doncic said. "His mentality is insane, the way he sees the court, his IQ is amazing, so I think it was big time.

"He was in foul trouble, so we tried to get after him and if you don't have CP out there, it's for sure tougher on their team.

"I saw he was going for the rebound and I was surprised. He said to me if I pushed him that hard. I said, 'No, not that hard, but it was a smart play.' And he said, 'Yeah, I know.'"

While Doncic had a particularly poor shooting night, shooting one-of-10 from the perimeter, he was critical in creating good shots for his teammates.

Dorian Finney-Smith was the primary beneficiary, making a playoff career-high 24 points on eight-of-12 from beyond the arc.

Doncic singled Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock out post-match, specifically for how they've been able to limit Paul's ability to attack the paint as the series has gone on. For the Mavs to win the series though, the three-time All-Star believes Dallas have to show the same intensity and determination on the road.

"That's Reg [Bullock] and Doe [Finney-Smith], those two guys are warriors," Doncic said. "Those two guys, they don't complain about how many shots they get, they just play hard, play defence and I'm really happy to have both of them on our team.

"We've got to play the same way on away games, though. I think the fans helped out a lot, with their energy, but we've got to bring this energy to away games.

"I think it's going to come down to who wins the first away game – maybe, I don't know, but we've got to play with the same energy."

The Dallas Mavericks tied up their playoff series in spite of a poor shooting night from Luka Doncic on Sunday, winning Game 4 against the Phoenix Suns 111-101.

The Slovenian went one-of-10 from beyond the arc and converted on a total of nine-of-25 from the floor, but the Mavs were otherwise automatic from long-range and Doncic was the facilitator in that regard.

He ended up with 11 assists while the rest of the Dallas team went 19-of-34 from deep, with Dorian Finney-Smith scoring a career playoff-high with 24 points on eight-of-12 from the perimeter.

While Devin Booker scored 35 points, Phoenix lacked a reference point late in the game with Chris Paul fouled out early.

The first-seeded Suns went three-of-nine from the perimeter in the fourth quarter, while Booker critically turned the ball over three times.

Sixers tie it up on home court

In the Eastern Conference, the first-seeded Miami Heat find themselves in a series, with the Philadelphia 76ers claiming a 116-108 win in Game 4.

Joel Embiid's second game back from injury gave the Sixers a boost to tie up the series, finishing with 24 points on seven-of-13 shooting and 11 rebounds.

James Harden was the star of the show, however, coming up with 31 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, including some big buckets down the stretch.

The Heat were able to generate open looks, and at timely moments in the game, but were simply not able to capitalise, going seven-of-35 from the perimeter.

Victor Oladipo and Tyler Herro were particularly unable to provide Miami with a scoring boost off the bench, combining for 26 points but off two-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc.

Luka Doncic felt it was all about "energy, man" as the Dallas Mavericks put in a much-improved defensive showing to claw their way back into their Western Conference semi-finals series against the Phoenix Suns.

Speaking after the Game 2 defeat to the top-seeded Suns, superstar Doncic described the Mavs' second-half defensive showing as "horrible".

But it was a much different story for a desperate Dallas side on Friday as Doncic and Jalen Brunson starred in a 103-94 win to trim the deficit to 2-1.

Doncic finished with 26 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and two steals, while Brunson put up a game-high 28 points – six more than he managed over the first two games.

After helping to spoil Chris Paul's 37th birthday and keep the Suns at bay, Doncic explained why he felt the Mavs were more on it from a defensive standpoint.

"Energy, man. The crowd gets you going. The energy and the execution were better. That's what we've got to do every game," he said, in quotes reported by ESPN.

"I knew I had to do better. I knew I could do better. I think I made a big jump on defense this year. The second half (of Game 2) was horrible by me, and I knew I had to get back to my team and play better defense.

"We're going to believe until the end. Somebody's got to get to four wins, and no matter if you're down or you're up, you've got to believe."

Head coach Jason Kidd said after the Game 1 defeat that Doncic did not get enough support from his team-mates. He had a different view this time around.

"Everybody joined the party," Kidd said. 

"They helped out on both ends. Luka was great defensively. He participated, too. It puts us in a different position when that happens."

For Brunson, the target now is maintaining that same standard when Dallas aim to tie things up in Game 4 on Sunday.

"I found a way to bounce back tonight," Brunson said. 

"I just can’t be satisfied with this. Sunday’s going to be another brutal game. I have to bring the same energy, the same intensity, the same everything."

It was a defensive showcase by the Philadelphia 76ers in their 99-79 home win in Game 3 of their series against the Miami Heat.

With their season essentially on the line – as no NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit – the 76ers were energised on the defensive end with the return of star Joel Embiid, who was wearing a protective mask to protect his fractured orbital bone.

It was the first time since January 2018 that the 76ers have held an opposing team under 80 points, when they beat the San Antonio Spurs 97-78.

In an incredibly low-scoring first half, the 76ers reached half-time with a 41-34 lead as James Harden carried the early offensive load, before cooling off in the second half to finish on 17 points (four-of-11 shooting) with eight rebounds and six assists.

Embiid was solid in his return, commanding plenty of defensive attention to open up lanes for his teammates and putting in 18 points (five-of-12 shooting, eight-of-10 free throws) with 11 rebounds.

The real star of the show for the home side was Danny Green, who hit seven of his first eight three-point attempts for his equal team-high 21 points, sharing that figure with Tyrese Maxey, who had all of his 21 points in the second half.

Jimmy Butler was the only Miami starter to get into double figures, scoring a game-high 33 points on 12-of-22 shooting, while Tyler Herro was a disappointing five-of-15 from the field for his 14 points.

Game 4 will remain in Philadelphia before heading back to Miami for Game 5.

 

Mavericks make it a series

The Dallas Mavericks injected some life into their series against the Phoenix Suns, taking Game 3 103-94 at home to trail 2-1.

In an inspired defensive showing, Dallas held the Suns to quarter totals of 20, 24, 23 and 27, slowing the game down to a crawling pace at times as both sides hunted for the exact looks they were after.

Both teams shot a respectable 44 per cent from the field, while the Suns were more efficient from long range, shooting it at 46 per cent compared to the Mavericks' 33 per cent, but the hosts forced 17 turnovers while committing just eight.

While the Mavs were not at their best from deep, despite shooters Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith combining for eight makes behind the arc, they compensated by dominating the interior, out-scoring the Suns 50-32 in the paint.

Luka Doncic was at his best with 26 points (11-of-25 shooting), adding 13 rebounds and nine assists, but it was Jalen Brunson who lifted the Mavericks to the victory.

After scoring a combined 22 points from 32 per cent shooting in Game 1 and Game 2, Brunson erupted for a game-high 28 points on 10-of-21 shooting, with five assists and four rebounds.

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