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WCF Nod At Stake: Can Luka Doncic Lead Mavs to Game 7 Win vs. Suns?

A pivotal Game 7 will decide whether it's the Dallas Mavericks or Phoenix Suns that earn a Western Conference Finals nod.

The Dallas Mavericks faced the possibility of playoff elimination entering their Game 6 matchup against the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night at American Airlines Center. After winning 113-86, the series now heads to a decisive Game 7.

Luka Doncic set the tone for the Mavericks with 33 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, and four steals. He earned himself an early night off — checking out of the game with 3:43 left in regulation with his team holding a 20-point lead.

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With the Mavericks only needing six games to close out the Utah Jazz in the first round, the last Game 7 of the Doncic era occurred in last year's playoffs against the LA Clippers. However, it was Doncic's first elimination game victory. 

Despite Doncic recording a staggering 46 points and 14 assists against the Clippers, the Mavericks still lost 126-111. There was no answer from Dallas' defense for the Kawhi Leonard and Paul George duo coupled with scorching hot shooting from their supporting cast. 

"Game seven is the toughest game. You've got to give it everything," Doncic said after losing Game 7 against the Clippers. "We've been in the playoffs twice since I've been there, lost both times. You get paid to win."

Doncic has shown that he's going to raise his game when his team faces elimination. In three career elimination games, he is averaging a staggering 39.0 points — the highest average among all players to have appeared in at least three of these performances. 

"The statistics don't matter to me," Doncic said about his big performances in elimination games. "But if we win, it's going to be amazing you know. We got another game. I think we won this game on the defensive end. We got another game. It's fun. It's playoffs, and we're going to give our everything."

What's different about this Mavericks team compared to just a year ago? 

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In the Game 7 loss to the Clippers, the Mavericks were starting Kristaps Porzingis and Boban Marjanovic with Dorian Finney-Smith being the lone holdover starter around Doncic from that lineup. Now, they have embraced the use of small ball lineups with a five-out offense.

Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns
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Under head coach Jason Kidd, the Mavericks take pride in defensive execution and have a quicker unit. They swarm within the half-court faster and handle switching much more effectively. 

The Mavericks' offense has a key differentiating factor going their way entering Sunday's Game 7, too. Jalen Brunson has emerged as a consistent secondary ball-handler to offer needed support in making plays off the bounce. 

"The type of desperation we played with tonight and not wanting the season to end, we've got to bring that (to Game 7)," Brunson said. 

It's not easy to receive highly efficient 3-point shooting from role players consistently on the road in the playoffs, especially in a pivotal Game 7. The Mavericks must shoot better than the 8-32 (25.0 percent) clip they finished from 3 in Game 5. 

The Mavericks' offense overall has been relatively flat on the road against the Suns in this series. They have averaged just 101 points despite averaging 13.7 made 3s. Turnovers at times have been a challenge, too. 

A complete supporting cast performance will be needed in Game 7. Brunson must play much closer to his 21 points and seven rebounds he had in Game 5 as opposed to the 22 total points he scored in the first two road games of the series. The team cannot shoot poorly from 3 as they did in Game 5 either. 

All factors aside, it comes down to a rather simple point. The Mavericks must do what they have failed to do in three tries in this series: win a game at Footprint Center.