It was no surprise when Luka Doncic looked ready for Game 7, calmly draining his first three shots to give the Dallas Mavericks an early lead in Phoenix.
The stunner came over the next two hours: The top-seeded Suns had no response.
Doncic scored 35 points, Spencer Dinwiddie added 30, and the Mavericks blitzed the Suns with a 123-90 knockout Sunday night, advancing to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2011.
“A lot of people said it would be a blowout,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said with a grin. “They were right.”
Of course, it wasn’t Dallas that was supposed to win on Sunday. The home team won the first six games of the series, but the Mavs broke through, dominating in a hostile environment from start to finish. Conversely, it was an embarrassing no-show for the playoff-tested Suns, who advanced to the NBA Finals last season with a very similar roster.
The fourth-seeded Mavericks travel to face Golden State in Game 1 on Wednesday.
“Amazing,” Doncic said. “I don’t know what to say.”
Doncic earned the Mavs an early lead, making his first three shots, including two 3-pointers. That helped Dallas push to a 27-17 advantage in the first quarter and a whopping 57-27 cushion at halftime.
Doncic and Dinwiddie, who came off the bench, combined to pour in 48 of the Mavericks’ 57 points. Doncic’s 27 points in the first half matched the Suns’ team total.
Game 7 drama? Not in the desert.
Simply put, the Suns looked overwhelmed by the pressure of a Game 7. They missed shots they usually make, made bad passes they usually don’t make, and looked nothing like the team that won an NBA-best 64 games during the regular season.
Doncic was fantastic, making shots from all over the floor and finishing 12 of 19 from the field, including 6 of 11 on 3s. He also got some help: Dinwiddie was fantastic in the first half with 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
Meanwhile, Phoenix’s All-Star backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker was never a factor. The 37-year-old Paul is a 12-time All-Star that has done just about everything possible in the game except win a championship.
It’s the second straight year the Suns have lost a playoff series after having a 2-0 lead, joining their NBA Finals loss last year to the Bucks, and the fifth time it’s happened to one of Paul’s teams.
Warriors welcome back coach Steve Kerr from COVID protocols
Steve Kerr is out of the NBA’s health and safety protocols, and preparing to coach the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals after missing the last three games of the semifinal round against Memphis with COVID-19.
Kerr said his symptoms were mild with a cough and congestion, but his biggest concern was not to get anyone around him sick. He departed less than two hours before tipoff of Game 4 against the Grizzlies last Monday after arriving at Chase Center and testing positive.
“It really wasn’t too bad,” Kerr said Sunday, still waiting on his team’s opponent from Sunday’s Game 7 of the Mavericks-Suns series.
Associate head coach Mike Brown, who last weekend became the next coach of the Sacramento Kings, filled in for Kerr as Golden State wrapped up the series with a 110-96 win in Game 6 on Friday night.
Guard Gary Payton II said everyone is thrilled to have Kerr back in the building and locker room.
“Just good to see him,” Payton said. “We're glad that he made it out OK, made it good, came back healthier.”
Kerr encouraged Brown “to follow his gut. He couldn’t sit there and think, ‘What would I do?’ ” That led to the Warriors staff starting Kevon Looney in the clincher. He went out and grabbed 22 of Golden State’s 70 rebounds.
The Warriors are hopeful forward Otto Porter Jr. will be available for Game 1 on Wednesday night after missing the previous two games with soreness in his right foot. In addition, Payton is recovering well from a broken left elbow and might be fine to play at some point during this round, Kerr said.
Payton was injured when he fell hard after driving for a layup and getting struck on the head by Dillon Brooks in Game 2, with Brooks receiving a Flagrant 2 foul, ejection, and one-game suspension.
“Time. It’s going to take time,” said Payton, who is lefthanded and is regaining strength in his dominant arm doing daily tasks such as brushing his teeth.
Payton said he couldn't catch himself when he went down, saying, “Things happen, but it's past me. I'm just trying to work and continue to strengthen my arm and get it back ready and come back and help my team.”
He did speak to Brooks.
“We talked, it's all good, it's a basketball play,” Payton said. “I know he didn't mean it. No hard feelings, no bad blood. It's all good, it's playoff basketball.”
Grizzlies say they won’t skimp on Ja Morant extension
Memphis, meanwhile, says it is willing to spend whatever necessary to keep its core together, including signing All-Star guard Ja Morant to a contract extension this offseason.
“We’re not going to have any issues paying anyone who we want to pay,” Zach Kleiman, the Grizzlies’ general manager and vice president of basketball operations, said of the future. “There’s never going to be any issue with retention here.”
Memphis finished with the second-best record in the NBA and its highest playoff seeding at No. 2 in the Western Conference, but was eliminated in six games by Golden State in the semifinals Friday night.
Kleiman emphasized that is what owner Robert Pera wants. Memphis’ goal is maintaining team chemistry while working toward winning a championship despite being one of the NBA’s small-market teams. Memphis ranked 10th in the league for merchandise sales recently, with Morant ninth among players.
“We’re not worried about small market notions or any of this or that,” said Kleiman, this season’s NBA executive of the year. “We’re not going to have any issue whatsoever keeping together whoever we ultimately decide along the way.”
That certainly includes Morant, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft, who has improved from Rookie of the Year in 2020 to All-Star starter this season and as the NBA’s Most Improved Player who also finished seventh in MVP voting. Morant is eligible for a five-year maximum contract extension this offseason.
And Kleiman made it as clear as possible that he intends to make sure Morant is in Memphis for a long time.
“Whatever I’m allowed to say under the NBA rules without violating the CBA, I hereby say about what our plans would be for Ja,” Kleiman said.
Morant’s desire is keeping the Grizzlies intact as well, starting with himself.
“I’m definitely happy to be here. Memphis is my home,” said Morant, who knows his contract situation will be a hot topic this offseason. “If your [question] is: Do I want to be in Memphis? Hell, yeah.”