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Mavericks defense, Jalen Brunson rise to occasion in Dallas’ Game 3 win over Suns

Jalen Brunson and Deandre Ayton in Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks

DALLAS, TX - MAY 6: Jalen Brunson #13 of the Dallas Mavericks drives to the basket to score against Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns during the second half of Game Three of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals at American Airlines Center on May 6, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

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Mavericks coach Jason Kidd issued two challenges to his team – for Luka Doncic to defend better and other Dallas players to score more.

Check and check.

The Mavericks held the high-powered Suns to their worst offensive efficiency of the playoffs by far, and Jalen Brunson scored 28 points to lead Dallas to a 103-94 victory over Phoenix in Game 3 Friday.

Doncic (26 points 11-for-25 shooting, 13 rebounds, nine assists, five turnovers and five fouls) still served as the Mavericks’ main creator. But Brunson, who also had five assists, drove far more aggressively than earlier in the second-round series (which the Suns still lead 2-1).

His offensive burden lightened, Doncic – though far from a stopper – held up well enough defensively. Dallas looked far more prepared for the Suns’ attack and benefited from long-overdue regression to the mean.

Even as a team led by elite mid-range shooters, Phoenix was unsustainably hot from that zone in the playoffs. Until tonight.

Suns on 2-pointers outside the restricted area:

  • Regular season: 48%
  • First round: 55%
  • Games 1 and 2 vs. Mavericks: 57%
  • Game 3 vs. Mavericks: 32%

Expect the Suns to land somewhere in between in Game 4 Sunday.

Chris Paul (12 points, four assists and seven turnovers) had an uncharacteristically ugly game on his 37th birthday. Devin Booker (18 points, six assists and five turnovers) didn’t pick up enough slack. Jae Crowder (19 points on 7-of-12 shooting with seven rebounds, five assists and two steals) was Phoenix’s best player.

With multiple interactions with Dallas’ feisty bench, the Suns got pretty animated at times.

They weren’t the only ones. Doncic repeatedly made the money sign with his hands after fouls, seemingly making this insinuation:

Given his outsized importance offensively (positively) and defensively (negatively), it somewhat felt like Doncic lost Game 2. The Mavericks won Game 3.

Brunson stepped up as a creator. Doncic’s and Brunson’s teammates shot 37% on 3-pointers. Dallas’ defense was a full-team effort, especially on the interior when going small.

And Doncic was pretty darned good, too.

The Suns remain strong favorites to advance. But the Mavericks showed, when everything comes together, they can compete in this series.