In the Mavericks’ 111-101 Game 4 win over the Phoenix Suns, Luka Doncic out-Chris Pauled Chris Paul.
In no instance moreso than 1.1 seconds before halftime, when Doncic leapt 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 2-2 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.
As Doncic stood up from that rebounding-to-foul sequence with Paul, the 37-year-old point guard asked if Doncic thought he’d really pushed him that hard.
“No, not that hard,” Doncic recalled, smiling after the game. “But it was a smart play.
“He was like, ‘Yeah, I know.’”
In 439 best-of-7 NBA playoff series that have started 2-0, just 31 teams (7.1%) have overcome the deficit to advance. After two consecutive wins in AAC, the Mavericks look the part of an upset threat to the league’s lone 60-win team in what’s now a best-of-3 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. Then he took a charge, drained a 3 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 away Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Mikail Bridges and leave him one-on-one against Paul.
Doncic immediately backed him down in the paint and, just before he picked up the ball to dish to the corner, drew enough contact from Paul to force the Hall of Famer to the bench with three fouls, 1:52 before half.
Doncic knew the stakes — and, thanks to watching film of Paul all week, how to sell a collision — a couple of minutes later on that pre-halftime-buzzer rebound.
Paul, who’d never drawn four fouls in a single half in his illustrious career, committed his fifth for backing into Jalen Brunson while dribbling in transition just 2:28 after halftime and sat the remainder of the period.
“When we know a player’s in foul trouble, no matter who it is, we’re trying to apply pressure,” Brunson said. “He’s so crucial to that team, and if we can get him out of the game, obviously in a clean way, we’re trying to exploit that.”
Paul 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 to Kidd on the sideline, smiling and clapping his hands.
Doncic and Jalen Brunson (18 points) combined to draw six offensive fouls in Game 4, including five on All-Star duo Paul and Devin Booker (game-high 35 points).
“JB and Luka and those guys did a really good job of understanding when we were in the bonus,” Kidd said, referencing Paul’s penchant for working the whistle. “We’re being taught by one of the best point guards ever on the other side of how to do things, and that’s pretty cool this time of year.”
Paul’s departure might’ve reignited the Mavericks’ offensive tear.
After shooting 8 of 13 from 3 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 after the break and to six points (89-83) with 7:12 remaining.
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 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 two nights later.
The Mavericks haven’t won in the Suns’ Footprint Center since November 2019, but after spending the weekend snapping their 11-game losing streak to the Suns, little question remains about whether they can contend with the NBA’s best.
“If we have a 1% chance, we’re going to believe,” Doncic said. “This team has something special. The bond is special.”
More from Game 4
Mother’s Déjà Vu: Mavs’ Game 4 win harkens back to ‘Mother’s Day Massacre’ vs. Lakers
Chris Paul’s foul trouble, crunch-time absence opens door for Mavs to tie series with Suns
Come to the party: Series vs. Suns is evened up now that Luka Doncic has help
Mavs fan kicked out for ‘unacceptable behavior’ to Chris Paul’s family at Game 4 in AAC
National reaction to the Mavericks’ Game 4 win over Phoenix: Chris Paul’s 2-0 ‘curse’
Photos: Dorian Finney-Smith delivers! Mavs even up series against Suns with 111-101 win
1/76Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer to give the Mavericks a 14-point lead with just over six minutes left in the fourth quarter in Game 4 of an NBA second round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday, May 8, 2022, in Dallas.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)
Find more Mavericks coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.