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'Break the damn gas pedal': Suns started fast, fizzled late in Game 1 win over Mavericks

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Suns center Deandre Ayton dunks against the Mavericks during the second half of Monday’s Game 1 win.

PHOENIX — Make it 10 in a row over Dallas.

The Suns extended their winning streak against the Mavericks in taking Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals series, 121-114, Monday night before a sellout crowd of 17,071 at Footprint Center.

The overall top seed in this year’s postseason led this latest victory by 21 points with under nine minutes remaining in the game before going cold and the fourth-seeded Mavericks heating up to make it a closer outcome than it should’ve been.

“Overall, I thought we played a solid game, and they went small,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “That’s when we didn’t take advantage of that lineup like we had been.”

Deandre Ayton led the Suns with 25 points as Game 2 is Wednesday in Phoenix before the series shifts to Dallas for Friday’s Game 3.

“We got away from our principles, but I’m glad that happened early,” Ayton said. “A little eye opener to where these dudes don’t give up. Basically just, break the damn gas pedal. That’s it. Break it. Don’t take your foot off it because they’re not letting up.”

Devin Booker posted a near triple-double with 23 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in his second game back after missing three straight games in the first round against the Pelicans with a strained right hamstring.

“I feel great, I’m ready to go,” Booker said.

Chris Paul added 19 points as he hit two huge shots to keep the Mavericks at bay when the Suns were going in reverse offensively.

His 3-pointer with 5:16 left gave the Suns a 109-93 lead. He later hit a twisting 15-footer that answered Luka Doncic’s 3 to put the Suns ahead, 111-98 with 3:19 left.

Mavericks’ coach Jason Kidd called a timeout after Paul’s two. The Suns missed five shots in between those two Paul baskets.

“We’ll take the win,” Paul said. “It’s not always going to be pretty. We played well pretty much most of the game. We’ll look at film tomorrow and see what we need to do differently for Game 2.”

Doncic scored a game-high 45 on 15-of-30 shooting (4-of-11 from 3) as his dunk cut Phoenix’s lead to six with 53.4 seconds left before Booker answered with two free throws with 47.3 seconds remaining.

He later hit a 3 with 10.5 seconds left that pulled the Mavs within five, but Booker connected on a pair of free throws after getting fouled .

“We’re trying to keep it all contained,” said Booker about Doncic, who grabbed 12 boards and had eight assists to five turnovers. “Just make it tough on him.”

The Suns swept the three games they played against the Mavericks in the regular season, but trailed heading into the fourth quarter of each one.

They didn’t have to rally in the fourth Monday night, but had to hold off a late surge by the Mavs, who trailed 106-85 with 8:48 remaining after JaVale McGee stripped Doncic and went coast-to-coast for a dunk.

“This is playoff basketball and it’s unacceptable the way we closed it out,” Ayton said. “Coach got on us about that, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to win the game. Us as a team, I wouldn’t say we’re treating it as a loss, but I know for a fact we’re not closing another game like that again. We’ll be way more locked in like we just came off the L because the team had a gut feeling. When we walked out of the locker room, not everybody was happy with how we ended that.”

The Suns started the fourth with just one starter, Mikal Bridges, along with reserves Cam Johnson, Cameron Payne, JaVale McGee and Landry Shamet, but Williams eventually had his starting unit out there.

“Sitting there watching our bench, making sure they close out and they play the right way because that’s the type of team where Coach takes the starters out and has the bench in,” Ayton said. “Mainly it’s about playing the right way. Playing the right way and finishing out strong.”

Phoenix led 69-56 at the half as Ayton and Booker had 19 and 15 points, respectively, at the half.

Jae Crowder scored all 11 of his points in the first half after being ice cold in the first round against the Pelicans.

After shooting 31.4% from the field in six games against New Orleans, going 3-of-26 from 3, Crowder shot 4-of-6 in Monday’s Game 1 to match the amount of the 3s he hit all series with his 3-of-5 effort from deep against the Mavericks.

Cameron Payne also located his shooting touch as he too struggled from the field in the first round.

The Suns backup point guard hit 4-of-8 from the floor in scoring nine points off the bench. He went 1-of-3 from 3, added five assists and only committed one turnover.

Against New Orleans, he made just 29.5% of his field goal attempts, going 3-of-19 on 3s.

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