DALLAS — A lot has changed with the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks since the teams met in the Western Conference semifinals last season, headlined by the blockbuster trades both franchises pulled off with the Brooklyn Nets last month to land superstars.
One thing that has stayed the same: Devin Booker and Luka Doncic really don’t like each other.
That was apparent once again when the two got in each other’s faces during the final seconds of the Suns’ 130-126 win in a thrilling Sunday afternoon game at the American Airlines Center.
The confrontation occurred after Doncic missed an open 4-foot floater that would have tied the score on the possession immediately after new Suns star Kevin Durant gave Phoenix the lead with a pull-up jumper. Doncic took umbrage with Booker’s commentary after the miss, yelling for Booker to “Shut the f— up!” before stepping toward his fellow All-Star guard and exchanging more words, leading to double technical fouls.
Booker said he was telling the official that Doncic had pushed off and should have been called for an offensive foul. Doncic disagreed.
“Based on the words, I don’t think so,” said Doncic, who has 14 technical fouls this season, two shy of an automatic one-game suspension. “It’s fine. It’s just a competitive game.
“It’s all good. Just next time, don’t wait until there’s three seconds left to talk.”
As Mavs guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said, “The bad blood is still there” between the Suns and the Mavs stemming from Dallas’ upset over the West’s top seed in last season’s second round. It was a chippy series highlighted by Doncic muttering, “Everybody acting tough when they’re up” while walking to the locker room after the Mavs’ Game 5 loss and standing next to Booker and smirking at him during Dallas’ Game 7 blowout victory.
“You guys say you don’t want everybody to be friendly,” Booker said after scoring 36 points in Sunday’s win. “Here you go. We got some smoke.”
It was a frustrating afternoon for Doncic, who was bothered by soreness in his left thigh. He spent his normal rest time early in the second quarter in the Mavs’ locker room doing some stretching with Mavs manual therapist Casey Spangler.
Doncic said the thigh has been an issue for the past week and especially Sunday, when he said his left leg seemed weaker when he tried 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 thigh had nothing to do with his missed shot with the game on the line.
“I just missed it,” Doncic said. “One of my friends texted me: ‘I would have even made that.'”
The other superstars in the game certainly played up to their billing.
Mavs guard Kyrie Irving, whose trade request from the Nets helped lead to the Suns’ opportunity to deal for Durant, had 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting and seven assists. Nevertheless, Dallas dropped to 2-5 in games Irving has played alongside Doncic, with all five losses decided in the final seconds.
Durant and Booker combined for 73 points despite Dallas’ defense consistently selling out to try to force the ball out of their hands, willingly allowing Phoenix role players to get open 3-pointers. (Reserve forward Ish Wainright going 4-of-5 from 3-point range in the second half was a significant factor in Phoenix’s win.)
Booker got his 36 points on 15-of-25 shooting and also had 10 assists. Durant had 37 points on 12-of-17 shooting, including the go-ahead shot in the final minute, when the Mavs double-teamed him once to get the ball out of his hands and then failed to send a second defender at Durant when he got the ball back again.
As intense as the rivalry between the teams is, Doncic said he has immense respect for the Suns’ talent.
“I mean, they’re incredible,” 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 today was a great game to watch.”