Suns unable to solve Luka Doncic, Dallas’ star drops 42 in Phoenix loss
PHOENIX — Usually the better team is going to win. That’s how this whole sports thing works.
The Phoenix Suns were better than the Dallas Mavericks on Friday, but Luka Doncic was the best player by a monumental margin and that mattered more in 120-113 loss.
The 20-year-old MVP candidate tied his career high of 42 points, with nine rebounds and 11 assists as well.
To be fair, the Suns’ (8-10) weren’t amazing in this game by any stretch. They had one great quarter and the rest was a struggle. But Dallas (12-6) was all Doncic and the team elements were mostly a miss for them too.
Doncic’s plus-minus sitting at just plus-three is proof of that. The Mavericks only shot 41% and accumulated just 20 assists. Doncic had 16 specific minutes where he dominated, and that was the swing.
Monty Williams was critical of the way his team played, which he felt was the story of the night.
“We haven’t consistently stuck to the formula lately, and that’s part of our growing pain right now,” he said.
“This team, the way it’s set up, you have to trust. Trust the pass, trust your teammate, trust the movement and that’s something that we can’t keep learning these hard lessons. But they’re good for us, because we gotta figure it out, that there’s a style of play that is effective when we’re consistently doing it.”
Doncic controlled the game immediately. Twenty-nine of the Mavericks’ 31 points in the first quarter were either scored or assisted by the second-year phenom, and the other two points were on a non-shooting foul.
The defining stretch of the game was the third quarter when Phoenix exploded with 39 points after posting 25 in each of the two previous 12-minute portions.
In a game that Donc– I mean Dallas had its palms around the entire first half, the Suns led by 10 with 5:08 remaining in the third.
A minute later is where Doncic once again put on an absolute clinic. He created 18 of the 20 points scored by the Mavericks in a four-minute and three-second stretch to tie the game through 36 minutes when the Suns should have led by double digits.
Doncic is both already awesome at drawing fouls and has just about the maximum amount of respect from officials, getting nearly every call he wanted in this game, hitting 15 of his 18 free-throw attempts.
On top of his elite decision-making out of ball screens, there was simply no answer the Suns could provide to stop or even contain him.
Doncic’s ability to rely on those two facets of his game were crucial in the fourth quarter of a chippy game where Phoenix was clearly getting away from how they played due to a couple scuffles and the officials calling a heavy whistle.
Doncic’s teammates were too, but he was able to settle everyone by keeping them in a flow while getting to the foul line when Phoenix allowed Dallas in the bonus with over seven minutes remaining. The Suns didn’t have that guy to calm everyone down and weren’t able to do it as a collective, either.
“I think we got focused on the wrong things, things we can’t control,” Ricky Rubio said. “We wanted to control it and it’s not the way it is. I know we’re young and we’re going to make mistakes but it can’t happen again.”
This is one of those nights where having Devin Booker to trade shots with the opposing star is such a huge bonus, but it was not one of those nights.
For the first time since Booker made the leap into the outstanding player he is, the 23-year-old was thoroughly outplayed by the opposing team’s star in a competitive game.
He was 6-for-16 from the field with eight assists. Booker had his passing going all night but the Suns need him to score too, even through all that extra defensive attention, and he couldn’t find a rhythm Friday.
Even in games where his numbers weren’t great, Booker has always been able to have little stretches where he at least boosts the Suns on his own for three to four minutes. There was no such instance in this game.
The contributions offensively for Phoenix were there for a win, and the defense sharpened up to 32 total points in the paint for Dallas after giving up 20 in the first quarter.
Aron Baynes looked like himself after missing five games. He posted 17 points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes while Kelly Oubre Jr. added 22 points and Rubio had 21 with nine assists.
The Mavericks only got two points out of Kristaps Porzingis, who looked galaxies away from the player he once was in New York. Tim Hardaway Jr. was the difference-maker, scoring 26 points with six made three-pointers.
For all the attention Doncic rightfully deserves, it’s clear from the Suns perspective that they feel this is a game they should come out on top in despite the star performance.
They’re right, just like they were about the loss to the Wizards on Wednesday.
On a road back-to-back that included a win against the Timberwolves last weekend, it looked like Phoenix had gotten back to the way they want to play with healthy bodies returning.
Now, they’ve lost six of seven in a time where the message remains the same, just before a four-game road trip.
“We gotta trust the system. We do it when it works but we don’t do it sometimes if it doesn’t [go] our way and that’s not trusting the system,” Rubio said.
“We show two different (versions of our) [team]. We gotta decide which team we want to be.”