This past Sunday saw a supernatural aligning of local sports astral bodies the likes of which has never been witnessed before in human history. There was even a blood moon, er, eclipse or whatever tossed in the mix to further drive the sports occultism.
The divine ball and puck spheres coalesced into a single spectacular celestial event. For the first time ever, one city had two of its franchises playing a Game 7 on the same day! The Dallas Mavericks and their American Airlines Center bunkmates, the Dallas Stars, each underdogs in their matchups against the Phoenix Suns and the Calgary Flames, respectively, had somehow managed to mystify the legions of so-called “insiders” or rather the nauseating dude-bro talking heads at ESPN and in The Sporting News, who predicted the swift dismissal of our hometown heroes.
There is no sweeter sports content than a Game 7, with its constant thrum of stomach-knotting nervous energy and its big-voiced-guy-booming, “It all comes down to this!” finality. We in North Texas were being treated to two in one night! Neither disappointed.
The one flaw in this otherwise perfect sports porn coincidence was an obnoxious little overlap of the two games. The puck dropped in the Stars game just as the Mavs were coming out of halftime. For some, the concurrence likely made for some conflicting viewing allegiances, though we’re confident that, for most, one contest took priority.
With the implications of victory earning them a spot in the Western Conference Finals as opposed to merely the second round of the playoffs, we’re sure most yokels, like us, stayed with the Mavs until the final buzzer. Despite their all but certain victory, well-sealed by the time the Stars took the ice, there was plenty of reason to stay locked in, if only to revel in the copious waves of schadenfreude washing over viewers as the Luka-led squad flat-out embarrassed the “best team in the NBA.”
Phoenix’s “Big Three” — Chris Paul, with his (metaphorical and literal) giant head; Devin Booker, with his chillingly whiteless eyes; and Deandre Ayton, with his deranged hobo-chic aesthetic — were perfectly cast as Goliath to the Little Mavericks’ David. Out of more than 100 “experts” across NBA media types, not a single one picked Dallas. Whether his proverbial slingshot was that sweet step-back 3-pointer, a hard drive to the basket for a signature Euro-step layup, or a deft pass out to an open perimeter shooter, Luka Dončić swung it hard, and often, and the once championship-favorite giant Suns now lie dead. Basketball media and NBA Twitter alike were left just as stunned by the one-sided 128-90 thrashing as were the Suns. Charles Barkley could barely speak through his shellshock during TNT’s halftime presentation. As head coach (and noted wife beater) Jason Kidd deadpanned after the game, “A lot of people said it was going to be a blowout. Well, they were right.”
In the media’s defense, it actually doesn’t make a lot of sense. This Mavs team is so flawed. They don’t have a dominant — or even passable — shot-blocking/rebounding big who can control the paint. The Suns, as well as the Mavs’ first-round opponent in the Utah Jazz, feature elite centers who can ball at both ends of the court. Dallas has little depth at wing and was forced to play Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock practically entire games. Phoenix and Utah both had wings to spare, allegedly. The Mavs are streaky shooters, bad rebounders, they play too much one-on-one, everyone watches Luka, the role players go missing some games, and so on.
And yet. The Mavs just dick-whipped the reigning Western Conference champs and the best regular-season team in basketball. As a result, the lads in green and blue are headed to the conference finals for the first time since 2011. The Jazz and Suns, despite their regular-season success and pundit support, are left with the next six months to hone their binge-drinking skills.
We could spend volumes enumerating the many qualities Dallas lacks and picking apart reasons why the team shouldn’t be where they are, yet you simply can’t quantify what this team does have in spades: belief, toughness, the clutch gene, want-to, unselfishness, and, of course, Luka.
Kidd deserves a ton of credit, as does Jalen Brunson, Bullock, Spencer Dinwiddie, Finney-Smith, and others. But this season — this moment — comes down to one transcendent peak-of-his-powers apex predator who hoisted 1,000-pound anchor chains over his shoulders and blew wind into the sails of a leaky boat, steering this thing toward greatness. Luka Dončić has been brilliant, and he continually raises the bar he set for his own dominance. The 23-year-old’s performance in Sunday’s series-clinching flogging of the Suns was nothing short of Jordan-/Kobe-esque. He controlled the game, played fearlessly, and understood no one could stop him.
In the early moments of the Game 7 meltdown by the Suns, there was only one guy on the floor who didn’t look overcome by the moment. Luka poured in eight quick points and set the tone for what quickly became a laugher. The young Slovenian achieved his 30-10-4 stat line in only three quarters.
After watching the Suns tuck their manhood inside their body cavities and tape them over, the casual fan could be forgiven for thinking Phoenix just wasn’t the team everyone thought they were. Maybe that’s true, but the Mavs’ D was everywhere in that game and through most of the series. The swarming, scramble-and-recover defense confounded Phoenix, as that “Big Three” combined for a paltry 27 points on Sunday. The Suns did miss some bunnies at the rim, but they rarely saw open threes, had a tough time penetrating, failed to stop defenders from working over the top of pick-and-rolls, and were generally bullied and out-hustled.
Dallas earned that series win more than Phoenix lost it.
The challenge ahead will be even greater for the Mavs as they face a pedigreed Golden State team that is finally healthy on Wednesday. Don’t read too much into the teams’ regular season head-to-head record, in which Dallas took three of four contests. The Warriors were without one or more of their own big three for all but one of those games. This is a different team. So is Dallas. Throw out the stats, matchups, and any other barometer you’d traditionally use. The Mavs don’t care. For all their flaws, Dallas is one of only four teams still in the dance. You can doubt them if you want. We won’t — not if No. 77 continues to remember he’s the best player in the world.
After all the giddiness of the Mavs game, we somehow had to get right to take in a hockey game. With all due respect to the Mavericks’ AAC little brothers, the buzz from witnessing the Suns go supernova in front of the world was so permeating, it took until the second period before the Stars’ Game 7 against Calgary could hold our attention. That’s when the Flames’ Tyler Toffoli scored to even it at 1-1. (Captain Jamie Benn opened the scoring at just the 40-second mark, about the time the Mavs had pushed their lead to more than 40 points.) It was at that moment that we were reminded of the Stars’ mortality and that just because the Mavs were riding a lead to easy victory, the same wouldn’t necessarily be true for their hockey counterparts. The Stars’ Vladislav Namestnikov would put the boys in Victory Green™ ahead again just 31 seconds later, but the response only deepened the luster of the fools’ gold that was the belief that Dallas had a realistic chance in this game or the series. The Flames tied the game 2-2 on the power play halfway through the third period, which would ultimately send the tilt to overtime.
As had been the case all series long, Calgary outplayed the Stars on nearly every shift, outshooting Dallas by nearly a 3-1 margin. The Stars were forced to throw their 1,000-pound chains around the neck of their own 23-year-old phenom in the form of goalie Jake Oettinger, who was forced to make 64 saves over the game’s three and a half periods (24 shots, a common whole game total, in the second frame alone). Though Dallas had a flurry of chances around Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom just before, Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau managed to slip a once in a lifetimer through an opening the size of the mouth of a 32-ounce Yeti cup between the pipe and Oettinger’s facemask from an angle so sharp it was practically on the goal line. Given 100 chances, Gaudreau couldn’t possibly do that again. What a waste of a literally historic goaltending performance.
The Stars had no business being in that Game 7 or the playoffs for that matter. If not for “Otter,” they wouldn’t have been. As flawed as the Mavs are, the Stars have bigger problems. They’re defensively lax, offensively hobbled, and talent and coaching poor. They now have their own six months to hone their binge-drinking skills.
Whatever happens, we’re sure few fans would have refused the deal if offered that if the Stars lose, the Mavs will advance. Sorry to the stick-and-puck diehards, but that’s a blood sacrifice to the sports gods we were certainly willing to make. Now, bring on Golden State!