Game 6 MVP? Reggie Bullock locked down Devin Booker, who ‘talked junk to our superstar’
Reggie Bullock was coming off a zero-point performance in 35 Game 5 minutes, but Jason Kidd knew 3&D specialist Bullock would be vital to the Mavericks’ hopes in Thursday night’s potential season-ending Game 6.
Regardless of whether Bullock supplied many threes along with his usual stellar D.
Bullock, you see what Kidd’s main strategy wrinkle for Game 6. Bullock’s primary defensive responsibility the entire series had been Chris Paul, but for Game 6 he would be tasked with dousing the hottest Sun: Devin Booker.
Call it the Reggie Special.
Bullock not only teamed with Dorian Finney-Smith to limit Booker to 19 points on 6-of-17 shooting and forced him into a career-high-tying eight turnovers in the Mavericks’ 113-86 season-prolonging victory at American Airlines Center, but contributed a career playoff high 19 points.
Bullock made 5-of-11 3-point attempts and scored 11 of his points during the second quarter — including 8 points in the last 3:41.
“I knew we were going to make some adjustments,” said Bullock, adding that he learned earlier Thursday that he would be guarding Booker. “It’s just another assignment for me. He’s a good player, a tough player; I just tried to make things tough on him.”
Booker entered Game 6 averaging a Suns-high 26.8 points on 47% shooting, including 50% from 3-point distance, and he was coming off scoring 35 points in Game 4 and 28 in Game 5.
“Reggie was great tonight,” Kidd said. “He’s been great all series for us. Again, we’ve asked him to guard everybody and he’s been up to the challenge.
“We started him on Book just to see what would happen there, just to make it tough.”
In the process of winning Game 6 and holding the Suns to a season-low 86 points, the Mavericks perhaps found a solution to slowing Booker in Game 7 in Footprint Center, an arena in which Dallas hasn’t won since November of 2019. Dallas forced Phoenix into a season-high 22 turnovers.
“We’ve got some dogs over here,” Bullock said. “This team, we’ve been grinding out all season. I’m pretty sure nobody’s got us winning Game 7, but we keep our head down and keep working and we believe in our abilities that we put in on both ends of the floor. And we believe in our coaching staff.”
Booker also had become one of the Suns’ chief antagonists, briefly faking injury and lying on the court after a spill in Game 5, calling it the “Luka Special,” clearly mocking Mavericks star Luka Doncic.
But by halftime of Game 6 Booker had only 8 points on 3-of-7 shooting. And when Bullock forced Booker into misses on his first three third-quarter attempts, Dallas extended its 15-point halftime lead to 70-48.
With 4:07 left in the game and the result well in hand, Bullock drew an offensive foul on Booker and clapped as the crowd erupted. Earlier, fans, clearly not happy with Booker’s mocking of Doncic, had chanted, “Booker sucks! Booker sucks!”
Hearing Bullock speak of Doncic after the game, it seems clear that Bullock and other Mavericks took Booker’s taunts of Doncic personally.
“He’s a great player, a tough player,” Bullock said. “I laugh at it when they try to guard him. I mean, they’re going to try to do the same thing to him, bring him up in every pick and roll, but when we get the switch we know it’s a bucket every time.
“And I don’t know about the switches with [Suns stars], to get a bucket every time. But I just know we’re going to try to back him up. That’s our teammate. He’s going to hold us down on the offensive end and give his best on the defensive end. It’s about a team being able to take his back and not let nobody talk junk to our superstar.”
Bullock scored 16 points in Game 1 of this series, but in Games 4 and 5 he had totaled only seven points. Fans and media who look at the box score to determine Bullock’s value to the Mavericks are missing the picture, Doncic said.
“He’s a great shooter, a great defender,” Doncic said. “He helps us a lot. When he doesn’t score his defense, you can’t see it on the stat sheet, but he helps us a lot in every game.”
Find more Mavericks coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.