Mavericks, not Suns, looked like the team on the ‘revenge tour’ in Game 7

May 15, 2022, 10:02 PM | Updated: May 16, 2022, 2:57 pm

PHOENIX — More than two hours before tip-off of Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals, injured Dallas Mavericks wing Tim Hardaway Jr. noticed a little moisture on the court. He took time away from the rehab work he was doing to grab a towel to wipe it up.

Not just any towel. A white towel with the words ‘The Valley’ emblazoned across one side.

“This is the perfect towel to do this with,” Hardaway said with relish as he used his foot to dry off the spot.

Hardaway didn’t play a minute Sunday, but his attitude permeated through his healthy Dallas teammates as they proceeded to wipe the floor with the shellshocked Phoenix Suns in a 123-90 win at Footprint Center.

The Mavericks came back from an 0-2 hole to win the series. They advance to the Western Conference Finals to face the Golden State Warriors. The Suns pack up their 64 franchise-record victories and go home.

The lasting image from the Suns’ NBA Finals Game 6 loss to Milwaukee was an incredulous Devin Booker watching the Bucks’ celebration and just saying, “Damn.”

The NBA is looking at the Suns’ performance in Game 7 against Dallas and exclaiming “damn,” with a much different tone attached.

The Mavericks looked like the team coming off an NBA Finals appearance and on a “revenge tour.” The Mavericks, with every member of their bench standing and engaged in supporting their five teammates on the floor throughout the series, looked like the team made up of close friends who just love to ball.

Throughout the series, the Mavericks relied heavily on Luka Doncic and throughout the series, the fourth-year Slovenian star delivered. Doncic had 27 points in the first half, matching the entire anemic output the Suns posted. In Games 1 through 6, the Mavericks rained down threes on the Suns — many of them open looks. That number got beefed up in Game 7, with Doncic and an unconscious Spencer Dinwiddie providing a torrential downpour three points at a time. Dallas connected on 19 deep balls — the fifth time they hit more than 15 in a game in this series.

Their defense made the Suns look like they had never played basketball together.

And in Game 7, the Mavericks smelled blood in the water and provided a blueprint for how to accomplish the age-old sports cliché, “put your foot on their throat and don’t let up.”

With the game long decided, Dallas started the fourth quarter by hitting 13 of their first 14 shots. The end-of-the-bench reserves for Dallas all got into the act in hitting shot after shot.

It’s almost like the Mavericks felt disrespected and wanted to inflict pain on the parties responsible for said disrespect. Oh wait.

It was the Suns who took pride in responding to perceived disrespect all season long. But Booker’s Game 5 “Luka Special” crack that went viral was part of the fuel the Mavs used to absolutely embarrass the Suns over the last two games of the series. Yeah, Dallas outscored Phoenix by 60 points over those games. Doncic outscored Booker 68-30 in that span.

Poking the bear is never a good idea. The Suns, more than most teams, should know that.

Then there’s the Chris Paul question. If there was such a thing as a Playoff MVP during the course of the proceedings, Paul would have been the pick through the Suns’ first eight games. He then abruptly became a different player; turnover-prone, hesitant to shoot, unable to get to his “happy place” at the right elbow.

Sure enough, soon after the series wrapped, Marc J. Spears from Andscape reported that Paul limped out of the arena and was bothered by a quad injury. That’s the first thing resembling an explanation for his prodigious dropoff.

For months, the Suns looked like their “revenge tour” mentality was real and it was championship or bust. Failing to even make the conference finals pushes the entire season into bust territory, but failing to show up for the final two games will remain curious.

But then again, maybe Sunday’s result expedited the inevitable. The Suns haven’t resembled their dominant regular-season selves for quite some time.

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