DALLAS — A lot has changed since the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks met in the Western Conference semifinals last season. These are the blockbuster trades the two franchises made last month with the Brooklyn Nets to land superstars.
One thing remains the same: Devin Booker and Luka Doncic don’t like each other.
That was evident again when the two got in each other’s faces in the final seconds of the Suns’ 130-126 victory Sunday afternoon in a thrilling game at the American Airlines Center.
The standoff came after Doncic missed a 4-foot open jumper that would have tied the score on a possession immediately after Suns rookie Kevin Durant had put Phoenix ahead with a pull-up jumper. Doncic took offense to Booker’s post-submission commentary, telling Booker to “Shut up!” he shouted. The star took a step toward the guard, leading to a double technical foul before more words were exchanged.
Booker told the official that Doncic was shoved and that he should have been called for an offensive foul. Doncic disagreed.
“Based on the words, I don’t think so,” said Doncic, 14 technical fouls this season, two automatic one-game suspensions shy. “Good. This is a competitive game only.
“It’s okay. Next time, don’t wait until you have three seconds left to talk.”
As Mavs guard Tim Hardaway Jr. put it, there’s still “bad blood” between the Suns and Mavs stemming from Dallas’ upset of the top seed in the West in the second round last season. This is the series where Doncic walked into the locker room after the Mavs’ Game 5 loss and stood next to Booker, smiling at him during Dallas’ Game 7 win and muttering, “Everybody acts tough when they get up.”
“You guys say you don’t want everybody to be friendly,” Booker said after scoring 36 points in Sunday’s win. “Look, we got a smoke.”
It was a frustrating afternoon for Doncic, who was troubled by a sore left thigh. He spent his normal time off early in the second quarter doing some stretching with Mavs arm therapist Casey Spangler in the Mavs locker room.
Doncic said the hip was an issue last week and especially on Sunday, when he said his left leg seemed weak when trying to shoot or jump. He had 34 points, but Doncic had a poor shooting performance, going 8-of-23 from the floor, including 1-of-9 from 3-point range. However, Doncic said his sore hip had nothing to do with a missed shot during a line drive.
“I miss him,” Doncic said. “One of my friends texted me and said, ‘I’d do that.’
Other superstars of the game certainly played up to their billing.
Mavs guard Kyrie Irving, whose trade request from the Nets helped the Suns’ chances of signing Durant, had 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting and seven assists. Nevertheless, Dallas fell to 2-5 in games with Irving Doncic, with all five losses coming in the final seconds.
Durant and Booker combined for 73 points, with Dallas’ defense constantly trying to get the ball out of their hands, allowing Phoenix’s role players to make open 3-pointers. (Reserve forward Ish Wainwright went 4-for-5 from 3-point range in the second half was a key factor in Phoenix’s victory.)
Booker scored 36 points on 15-of-25 shooting and dished out 10 assists. Durant had 37 points on 12-of-17 shooting, including a go-ahead shot in the final minute, when the Mavs connected on him once to get the ball out of his hands and then couldn’t get a second defender on Durant. he returned the ball again.
As strong as the rivalry between the teams is, Doncic said he has a lot of respect for the Suns’ talent.
“I mean, they’re great,” he said. “Those two guys are one of the best [duos] in the league, Book and KD. But I love it. It’s competitive. I think it was a great game today.”