The playoffs are complicated. Each series is its own story, and each game is its own chapter encompassing a dozen moments and plot points. But the playoffs can also be simple. Each of those moments, those plot points, falls into one of two buckets: the things we observe and the emotions they inspire within us. That’s what we’re here to talk about.
What We Saw
Let me start with a confession. Throughout these playoffs, I struggled to keep these post-game columns at the assigned word count, which consequently drove my co-author and editor, Mike, crazy. I couldn’t help it. The playoffs are so much fun, and there are just so many things to write about after each game. So many subplots. So many plays. So many adjustments.
But last night, after the game—really, after the first half, when the game was basically over—I was left without words. Speechless.
This is why I’ll keep this one short. Inspired by those “Suns in four” chants, here’s my ode to the 2021-22 Dallas Mavericks, exclusively in four-word phrases:
A band of brothers. Silencing doubters all year. Going against all odds. Against the best team. Against their Suns slump. Against 20 ESPN experts. Against past Clippers ghosts.
Game Seven road game. Prodigy all grown up. Silencing the home crowd. A first-class ass whooping. “The Luka Special” payback. A spinning step-back move. A defiant ankle-breaking staredown. A Deandre Ayton post-up. Luka 27, Suns 27. Luka is THAT guy. Sure ain’t no ho.
Jason Kidd can coach. The true point god. Manipulating from the sidelines. Solved Suns after 2. The defense was unreal. Hustled all season long. Dorian and Reggie, dogs. Made CP3 look old. Had Devin Booker trapped.
A three ball-handlers showcase. Five Out big-men slayers. Masters of the iso-ball. Forget the tall guy. Cold-blooded Spencer showed up. Jalen proved Carlisle wrong. Bullying length with strength. Twenty-three points per game. In the freakin’ playoffs. Saved the season twice. He will get paid.
Steph and Draymond next. Western Conference Finals, finally.
No fear, no limits. —Iztok Franko
What It Felt Like
Every conversation about the Mavericks, some way or another, revolves around Luka Doncic. When he plays, it is about how well. When he doesn’t, it’s about why not. And when the organization makes a move, the analysis always begins with how it affects Luka. For the better part of four years—at minimum, in the three since Dirk Nowitzki retired—every win and loss, step forward or back, achievement or miscue has been contextualized around him, first and foremost. It’s hard to imagine that changing as long as he wears a Dallas jersey.
We do this because of nights like Sunday. Because when your city’s franchise is fortunate enough to employ a player like Doncic, a paradigm-shifting generational talent, you watch the unlikely become academic.
The Dallas Mavericks should not be going to the Western Conference Finals. That’s less about them than the team they just dispatched. History tells us the Suns should have won this series, if not the championship. Heading into Sunday, the math did, too. Lest we forget, Phoenix had an 82 percent chance of winning this series after Game 5. Going into today, NBA teams with the best regular-season record had won 76 percent of their Game 7s. Excluding the 2020 NBA bubble, home teams had won 77.6 percent of Game 7s in league history.
And absolutely none of it mattered because Luka Doncic decided it shouldn’t. He is the eradicator of odds, the NBA’s great equalizer. This is bigger than him, of course: Spencer Dinwiddie was spectacular, and an all-time meltdown by the Suns made some of these heroics superfluous. Entertaining as it was, Doncic did not need to match Phoenix’s scoring total in the first half, per se, to put this out of reach.
Yet it’s hard to shake the notion that even if Phoenix had shown up, it would not have mattered. Not when Doncic, the most prolific Game 7 scorer in league history, takes another step toward becoming the game’s dominant player. Not when, at 23 years old, he continues to realize the prophecy floating around him since he was a teenager in Spain. He is changing basketball, and he is changing it from Dallas.
Which makes it fitting that this team is ahead of schedule, somehow four more wins from playing for its first championship since 2011 despite only winning its first playoff series since then a little more than two weeks ago. It feels like it should take longer, and maybe it will. But Doncic already reminded us once in this series: change waits for no man. And he’s looking mighty impatient. —Mike Piellucci