In the abstract, just to be in this position – round two of the playoffs, heading into a do or die Game 7 after pushing the NBA’s best regular-season team to the brink – has to be looked upon as a success for a team that just broke a decade long stretch of failing to advance past the first round. It’s progress. It’s good.
Now that the opportunity for more is within reach, just one game away, it’s reasonable to feel a little gluttonous. Dallas is a single road win away from vaulting into the Western Conference Finals. Easier said than done in a series where the home team has been dominant, with margins of victory in the double digits most games. More of the same certainly seems to be the prevailing conventional wisdom as the Mavericks will be 6-point underdogs on Sunday. But it’s not about a series anymore. It’s about one game. And in one game, just about anything can happen.
Game 7 Luka
Dallas’ playoff performances in the Luka Doncic era have been defined by historic performances from their superstar only to receive too-little support from his surrounding cast. Strange, then, that despite the names and faces around him remaining largely the same, the results this year have been so markedly different. Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith have ascended. Maxi Kleber has found his shot again. Spencer Dinwiddie has been the bench ball handler Dallas has needed and Reggie Bullock is an Iron Man who’s been putting 40+ minutes in as the wing defender Dallas has been searching for for years while also hitting some big shots along the way.
And it’s true, a cursory glance at Luka’s numbers in the series tell the story of some pretty great performances (he’s averaging 32.2/9.8/7/5), there really hasn’t been a God-mode Luka Doncic game. It speaks to the team’s overall improvement that there hasn’t needed to be. But for Game 7 in a hostile environment, the best player on the floor is going to have to deliver something big. And he can. The last time Luka was in a Game 7? He set an NBA Game 7 record by scoring or assisting on 77 of his team’s 111 points in a losing effort against the LA Clippers. Something tells me that a performance like that, with this new cast he has around him, might be enough for a win this time around.
Is this your Point God?
On the flip side, there’s Chris Paul. He’s been a virtual no-show for Phoenix since his 37th birthday. It’s been a shocking downturn for a guy who had an all-time playoff performance just last series, going 14-for-14 to eliminate the New Orleans Pelicans. Should it have required such a Herculean effort to dispatch the 8 seed? Debatable.
The schedule of this series has done Paul no favors, with all six games coming just one day apart. Now, for the first time, both teams have the respite of an extra day’s rest, and that’s likely to benefit the gassed Chris Paul more than any other player.
If Chris Paul is the player he was against the Pelicans, an already difficult task becomes near insurmountable. But give credit to Dallas’ defense. They’ve held Phoenix to their two lowest-scoring games of the year. It might not be up to Paul if the Mavs’ stout defense from Games 3 and 6 travels to the Valley.
The Blueprint is there
In this long series, we’ve seen adjustments made from both coaches. Monty Williams has swapped JaVale McGee and Cam Payne for Bismack Biyombo and Landry Shamet. Jason Kidd has elevated Frank Ntilikina over Josh Green to maximally bother Chris Paul. There’s little else to do from either bench in terms of personnel changes. Game 7 will be about who can implement their winning blueprint. For Phoenix, it’s about possession and doing enough to prevent Dallas from lighting it up from deep. Even in some of their losses, they’ve shot the ball well, better than Dallas even in terms of pure FG%. But the Mavericks’ shooting profile makes that moot, erasing any efficiency deficit by gorging themselves on threes.
For Dallas, their wins have largely been driven by the aforementioned heavy diet of threes, and also generating extra possessions by decisively winning the turnover battle. Dallas has long been one of the best in the league in terms of keeping turnovers down. It’s something that’s carried over from the Carlisle era to this new regime, thanks in large part to their slow pace and Luka’s elite passing vision. Another messy game from Paul would be a boon. In their 113-86 Game 6 win, Dallas scored 29 points off turnovers compared to just six for Phoenix – the end result of winning the turnover battle 22 to 7. If Dallas keeps that pressure up on the defensive end, and their shot-making doesn’t abandon them, they’ve got more than a puncher's chance of delivering a knockout blow to the NBA title favorites.
How to watch
You can watch the broadcast on Sunday on TNT at 7:00 CST.
Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation.