Dirk Nowitzki and Luka Doncic hugged each other with big grins after the end of the game.
The Dallas Mavericks around the German national player Maxi Kleber had just dominated the Phoenix Suns 123:90 in the decisive seventh game of the second NBA playoff round and were thus drawn into the Western Conference Finals of the North American professional basketball league – for the first time since 2011 , when Nowitzki had led the Mavs to the championship.
“What did I tell you?!” Nowitzki joked with several other Mavs players on the field. The German basketball legend watched the Mavericks away game in Phoenix on the spot and saw the Mavs lead by 30 points at halftime.
“‘Let’s go Mavs’ chants can be heard here,” wrote an astonished Nowitzki on Twitter about the audience response at the Suns’ home ground, where many said goodbye prematurely because of the significant deficit or booed their own team.
Nowitzki as motivation
Doncic was happy to have won in front of Nowitzki. “When you see Dirk on the sidelines at an away game, it gives you self-confidence,” said Doncic at the press conference. The point guard excelled with 35 points – already at half-time he had scored as many points as the entire Suns team with 27 points.
“He’s Luka. He loves this stage. The bigger it gets, the better he plays. He set the tone,” Mavs trainer Jason Kidd praised his protégé. “I like these games: there is pressure, we were underdogs but we all believed in it,” said Slovenia’s Doncic. Throughout the playoff series against the Suns, he was the defining player, averaging 32.6 points, 9.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists.
“I can’t get the smile off my face,” Doncic said happily about the win and progress. The home team had always won the first six games of the playoff series before the Mavs left the floor as winners in the decisive seventh game away. “The team was incredible. I can’t remember when an away team has achieved such a feat in a seventh game,” added the Mavericks star and Nowitzki’s legitimate successor.
In the east, the Boston Celtics defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 109-80 (48-43) at home, knocking the defending champion out of the playoffs. The Celtics were last in the Conference Finals in the 2019/20 season. As a team, the hosts sunk 22 three-pointers — an NBA record for a seventh playoff game. Grant Williams stood out – he was successful from the outside seven times. Theis remained without points in six minutes, but got three rebounds and blocked two throws.
The Celtics will face off against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. The series’ kick-off meeting will take place on Tuesday (local time) in Miami.