As he’s done so many times in clutch situations during his storied career, Chris Paul took over down the stretch Saturday night as he had a helping hand in dealing the Dallas Mavericks their fifth straight loss.

Paul finished with 29 points, 12 assists and four steals and the Phoenix Suns overcame a 15-point third-quarter deficit and defeated the Mavs, 111-105, at American Airlines Center. The loss dropped the Mavs to 8-12 on the season, while the Suns improved to 10-8.

“What a disappointing game,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We were fighting from the beginning and got behind and we were able to get a lead, and then it was tied at halftime and then in the third we built a 15-point lead with six minutes to go in the third.

“We had some loose possessions, we had some poor defensive possessions and they got the momentum back. It’s just a really disappointing one because of how hard our guys fought. But Phoenix hung in and they made plays and they were able to do what they had to do to get the momentum back and win, so we simply got to do better. But I loved our attitude headed into the game and I’m just really disappointed for the team.”

Disappointing because the Mavs mounted a 74-59 lead midway through the third quarter as Luka Doncic simply took over the game and show why he is one of the favorites to win this year’s Most Valuable Player award. Doncic, in fact, scored 18 of the 27 points the Mavs tallied in the third quarter.

However, with the score tied at 96, Deandre Ayton dunked after winning a mad scramble for a loose ball. Following 3-point misses by Josh Richardson and Dorian Finney-Smith, Paul stepped up and drained a 14-footer.

Doncic then misfired in the lane, and Ayton followed with an alley-oop dunk via an assist from Paul. And after Finney-Smith missed another triple, Paul fed Jae Crowder for a 3-pointer that padded the Suns’ lead to 105-96 with 1:05 remaining in the game.

Paul held off the Mavs by going 6-of-6 from the free throw line down the stretch.

“Look, he’s a great player,” Carlisle said. “He’s a first ballot Hall of Fame player, he’s in great shape, he knows how to win.

“He was the No. 1 fourth quarter player in the league last year. We had some pretty good possessions against him, but he had too many where he got the better of us.”

The Mavs played without Kristaps Porzingis, who sat out the second leg of this back-to-back, especially considering this was Dallas’ fourth game in six days. The Mavs also played without Maxi Kleber for the 11th straight game as he remained in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

However, Carlisle said Kleber will play on Monday when the Mavs host the Suns again. It will mark the first time all season that the Mavs will have their full compliment of players.

Doncic, who was critical of the Mavs’ effort after Friday’s road loss to the Utah Jazz, was complimentary this time around.

“I think everybody was a little tired,” said Doncic, who finished with 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.” We came (home from Salt Lake City) at like 4 a.m.

“I think the effort was great today and I think we just had a little bad luck. We had like five-to-six open shots again that didn’t fall. We’ve got to work on that, but I’m really proud of how we reacted with our effort.”

Willie Cauley-Stein punctuated that effort by hustling all over the floor and finishing the night with 14 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. Cauley-Stein’s tip-in at the second-quarter buzzer tied the game at 55 at the half.

Meanwhile, Doncic tallied 13 of the Mavs’ first 19 points in the third quarter to spark a 19-4 rally that helped Dallas build a 74-59 lead with 6:02 left in the third quarter.

“I think our effort level was a 10 out of 10 tonight,” Cauley-Stein said. “Guys were flying around and were in great position to help each other, and this is what this stretch is about.

“We’re bleeding and we’re trying to stop the bleeding. And I think the effort level – our attitude and effort tonight — was like two steps in the right direction, and it felt like everyone was together.”

Unfortunately, Paul, Ayton (18 points, 17 rebounds), Crowder (14 points) and Mikal Bridges (14 points) ruined all those good vibes the Mavs had going for themselves.

“I feel like in order for you to be great you have to go through the trenches,” said Hardaway, who scored 19 points. “Go through the trenches with your brothers and really claw your way and dig your way out of that hole. I think for tonight we went a step closer in the right direction.

“I’m not saying that it was great, because we didn’t get the win. But at the same time people showed effort, people were moving the ball. It felt like it was some joy out there today and it was a great job from all of our guys that came in and stepped in just to show that.”

In the end, though, it just wasn’t enough.

“We’re at the height of the difficulty of our schedule,” Carlisle said. “It’s important we just stay in the fight, keep playing like we did tonight and we just got to stem the tide.

“It’s a very difficult time, but we’re going to stay at it and we’re going to keep fighting through.”

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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