If pride goes before the fall, the Mavericks are still standing tall.

They may or may not escape this tough-as-nails playoff series with the Phoenix Suns, but they got out of Game 6 with their dignity intact because their season did not end on their home floor.

And the way they played to avoid elimination Thursday night suggests the good times might not end for quite some time.

The Mavericks evened the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals at three wins apiece with a 113-86 victory Thursday night at American Airlines Center.

They will play at Phoenix on Sunday in an all-or-nothing Game 7, time to be determined.

Before the game, coach Jason Kidd had said: “No matter how this thing ends, we’ve had a hell of a season. And we don’t believe it’s going to end tonight.”

He was right on the money.

This was the 10th occasion this season when the Mavericks were coming off a loss of 20 points or more.

They have won all 10 bounce-back games, including twice in this series now.

They put the 110-80 blowout in Game 5 at Phoenix behind them in a hurry, the same way they did the 20-point loss in Game 2.

And now, it’s Game 7.

If the Mavericks play like they did Thursday night, there’s no reason why they can’t break the cycle of the home team winning all six times in this series.

“I thought the fans were great. I thought we played off the fans,” Kidd said. “But I thought the guys, too, were in-tuned to the game plan and executed it to a T. Turnovers we talked about, we kept those down. We made open shots, everybody was involved, the ball was touching the paint.

“And defensively we were active. We got a lot of deflections and came up with steals. The pride was high. That group in the locker room has always been able to bounce back from a bad game and they felt they had a bad game. They bounced back.

“A lot of good stuff tonight. Now we got to find a way to win Sunday.”

The Mavericks will give themselves a chance if their defense travels with them. They had 16 steals, a season high, as part of Phoenix’s 22 turnovers.

“We won this game on the defensive end,” said Luka Dončić. “Everybody was locked in. The energy was amazing. And we started using our hands. We made a big emphasis on that.”

Asked to clarify if he meant hands or heads, he said: “Both. Hands. And heads.”

The second quarter ensured that the Mavericks would continue playing this season. They finished the first half on a 19-6 blitz that put them up 60-45 at the break.

The hero, other than Dončić, was Reggie Bullock. He’d been blanked in Game 5, but came back with 13 first-half points, 11 of them in the second quarter when the Mavericks took charge. He would finish with 19 points to go with seven rebounds. And he played stellar defense, mostly against Devin Booker as Kidd altered his defensive assignments from previous games in this series.

The cherry on top of this tasty victory came in the third quarter when Dončić ripped though the Suns’ defense for two slam-dunks as the lead ballooned to 70-48.

If this was the last game of the season at AAC – and the Mavericks have no intentions of it being that – it was a heck of a finale.

Dončić was supreme throughout, even when he got clocked by a Deandre Ayton elbow with just over 4 minutes left in the third quarter. He got a rest on the bench after that play, which earned Ayton a technical foul for taunting, but not for the flying elbow.

“I asked Ed (Malloy, one of the refs),” Luka said. “He said it’s a tough play. It’s good that I have a big head, hard head. That’s why I said Bobi (Boban Marjanovic) is the best trash talker. He said, I hope Ayton’s elbow is Ok because your head is so big.”

It was about the only way to slow down Luka, who had 28 points through three quarters and finished with 33 to go with 11 rebounds, eight assists and four steals.

The Suns got within 100-84 with 5 minutes left, but Luka converted a scoop shot and then stole the ball from Chris Paul and scored at the other end, and the Mavericks could breathe easier.

And now, they will face a second-consecutive win-or-go-home game on Sunday. The difference is that it will be the same for the Suns, who were the No. 1 team in the NBA this season and heavily favored in this series.

But if you told the Mavericks at the beginning of the season they’d be in Game 7 for a chance to go to the Western Conference finals, they most certainly would have taken it.

When asked why he believes this team can pull off what would be a stunning victory in this series after having not won in Phoenix since 2019, Dončić said: “This team. I know the guys. I know the coaching staff. Because of this team, we have an opportunity. This team is special and these are great guys. We play hard and we help each other.”

And if they can maintain the defensive intensity like they did Thursday night, they will have every opportunity to shock the basketball world.

Twitter: @ESefko

Share and comment

More Mavs News