The Mavericks did what they were supposed to do on Sunday.
When you are on your home floor playing the Phoenix Suns without Chris Paul for more than half the game, and less than four minutes in the second half, you’re supposed to win that game.
The Mavericks tied their Western Conference semifinal series at two wins apiece with a 111-101 victory over the foul-riddled Suns on Mother’s Day at American Airlines Center.
It ensured there will be at least one more game at AAC this season. The best-of-seven series now is down to a best-of-three with Game 5 in Phoenix on Tuesday at 9 p.m., Dallas time.
Game 6 will be at AAC on Thursday at 8:30 p.m.
And to be certain, this series now has a much different look to it than four days ago when the Mavericks limped back from Phoenix in a 2-0 hole. Now both teams have held serve at home. And the No. 1-seeded Suns know they are in a dogfight.
And on Sunday, they didn’t have their top dog.
“It’s big-time, man,” said Luka Dončić, who led the Mavericks with 26 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. “He’s one of the best point guards this league ever had. His mentality is insane, the way he sees the court. His IQ is amazing. It was big time. If you don’t have CP out there, it’s for sure tougher on (his) team.”
Paul picked up four fouls in the first half, including the last one with 1.1 seconds left before the halftime buzzer. He would play only 3 minutes, 58 seconds in the second half.
On the fourth foul, he was going for a putback, but had to get around Dončić. He ended up getting whistled for the loose-ball foul. Luka said it was a matter of just doing what Paul has done throughout his career.
“I saw he was going for the rim and I was surprised,” Dončić said. “He said to me: Did I push you that hard? I said: no not that hard. But it was a smart play.
“He said: Yeah, I know.”
His fifth foul came early in the third quarter and he got disqualified with his sixth a couple minutes into the fourth frame after sitting out the rest of the third.
The Mavericks took advantage because the Suns clearly aren’t the same without their floor general. The Mavericks were up by a dozen points going into the third quarter and the Suns never could mount enough of a rally to get closer than 82-78 late in the third quarter.
But Jalen Brunson, who had 18 points, hit a floater in the paint, then he found Frank Ntilikina on the wing on the next possession and Ntilikina responded with perhaps the biggest shot of his career, a 3-pointer that put the Mavericks up 87-78 going into the fourth. The Suns got no closer than six points in the final 12 minutes.
When Brunson knocked in a 3-pointer with 2:50 to play, the Mavericks’ lead was 107-95 and the Suns had failed to get a win on the Mavericks’ court for the second time in less than 48 hours.
The Mavericks shot the ball well from 3-point range all game, finishing 20-for-44 (45.5 percent).
And contributions came from all over. Dorian Finney-Smith had 24 points, all on 3-pointers as he hit 8-of-12 from beyond the arc. He was one triple shy of tying Jason Terry’s all-time playoff 3-pointer record of nine in a game in 2011.
And in the first half when the Mavericks took charge, it was Davis Bertāns who hit four of five 3-pointers to help the Mavericks earn a cushion.
Put them all together and the Mavericks had a terrific show of hard-nosed grit. And that’s the message coach Jason Kidd has tried to convey to his troops.
““Coming back home, we talked about one game,” Kidd said. “And that was Game 3. And once that was in the books, we had to focus on Game 4. And understanding what we had to do, we put ourselves in position to win and we finished it.
“But the big thing is these guys are playing hard. They’re playing extremely hard and it’s great to see – picking up full court, diving on the floor for the loose ball, protecting one another is really cool to watch.”
As Dončić said: “We always believe. If you have 1 percent chance, you’re going to believe. This team has something special. The bond is special. And staying together — if it goes good, if it goes bad, that’s the key.”
It also helps when the defense shows up like it did in the two games at AAC. Those were the first two games that Phoenix did not shoot at least 50 percent from the field. They had done so in their first eight games of the postseason.
“Our defense won us these two games,” Dončić said. “Our defense was way better than the first two games. I don’t think offense was the problem in any of these games, but if we play defense, I always say we’re a dangerous team.”
And the fact that it happened on Mother’s Day provided some good vibes, too. In 2011, the Mavericks had what is remembered as the Mother’s Day Massacre, a 36-point blowout of the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.
“I’ve heard a lot about that Mother’s Day,” said Kidd, who was on that team. “That was a good omen. Good things happened on that day. And we won. I was hoping it was going to be the same way and it turned out to be that way.”
Now, the Mavericks must prepare to have the kitchen sink thrown at them in Phoenix on Tuesday. Kidd had a terrible weekend in Dallas: seven turnovers in Game 3, and six fouls and five points in Game 4.
“There’s nothing regular about Chris,” Kidd said. “He’s one of the best players of all time and he’ll have his team ready to go in Game 5.”