Luka Doncic had just completed one of the most epic nights of his career with 42 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds while recovering from a neck injury. He had become only the second player in NBA history to post such numbers in a postseason game after LeBron James (per Mavs PR). His impact on his team’s offense was enormous beyond belief, having either scored or assisted on 31 out of the Mavs‘ 37 field goals overall.
What was his first reaction after such a performance? Some hard self-reflection.
“At the end, I played terrible.” That’s what Doncic said on TNT in his flash interview right after leading the Dallas Mavericks to a 105 – 101 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 5. He was his own fiercest critic right after an exhibition on the road against the Clippers, a team with such players as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, that brings the Mavs one win away from the West’s semifinals.
He was carrying a similar sentiment in the post-game presser, being a bit less tough on himself this time.
“I thought I could’ve played way better. I missed a lot of shots. Some layups that I should’ve made,” Doncic said before praising his teammates’ input. “But, wasn’t just me. It was the whole team, the energy. Dorian [Finney-Smith] was unbelievable. DP [Dwight Powell], KP [Kristaps Porzingis] with the big shot, Tim [Tim Hardaway Jr.] with the big shot. The whole team was bringing the energy.”
Doncic was not particularly pleased with how he fared in the fourth quarter, in which he scored only two points, and was probably not happy with some of his plays down the stretch . After a big 3-pointer by Kristaps Porzingis that put the Mavericks up 101 – 91 with 2:13 to play, the Slovenian All-Star missed consecutive shots while Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris hit triples and Leonard penetrated for the 101-100.
Luka then made a bad pass that gave the hosts a chance for a go-ahead basket with 18 seconds to play. The Clippers tried to catch the Mavs off guard but only managed a drive-gone-wrong by Terance Mann and a shot by Nicolas Batum over Doncic from close distance that fell short. Dallas got the rebound and held on to survive that mega-scare.
Another thing that Doncic believes he could’ve handled differently was the amount of shots he took along with his shot selection. He finished with a career-high 37 attempts from the field, of which he made 17. “I think it was too much. I shot some shots that I shouldn’t shot,” he said.
Doncic already had 40 points and 12 assists after three quarters of sheer “Luka Magic” of the highest order. The two-time All-Star set the tone early by torturing Paul George with a relentless bombardment of 3-pointers in front of him to finish the first period with 19 points. He continued carving up the Clippers, unleashing the full wrath of his offensive arsenal on his opponents that simply looked helpless against him.
“He’s the engine that drives our offense,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “There’s no secret there. But this is a responsibility that he covets. I believe he views it as a privilege.” Doncic had a commanding effect the likes of which was previously witnessed just twice before in the history of the league. According to Mavs PR, only LeBron James and Allen Iverson had scored or assisted on 80 percent of a team’s baskets in a playoff game before Doncic’s new all-around show.
“Resistance is futile” was Doncic’s motto as getting the ball through the hoop himself or sending dimes to his teammates by altering the pace of the game to his will, slowing or quickening the tempo to suit his desires, and manipulating the opposing defense as if he had put every Clipper in a hypnotizing trance.
The Clippers threw many different guys against him but nothing worked, again, for the most part of the game. Thanks to Doncic’s guidance and leadership, the Mavs led 89 – 75 at the beginning of the fourth period and, late in the quarter, Tim Hardaway Jr. with Kristaps Porzingis delivered a key sequence of back-to-back threes that proved to be decisive.
“That’s our guy,” Hardaway, who finished with 20 points, said about Doncic “We’re going to do whatever we can to back him up in any situation, at any given moment. And the performance he had today, it would have sucked if we didn’t come out with the victory.”
Carlisle characterized Porzingis’ 3-pointer as “arguably the biggest shot of the year.” The Latvian big man took a humble approach to his key basket.
“Just doing what the team needs to do. Staying ready for the moment,” Porzingis said. “I knocked that shot down, happy for that.”
Photo: Getty Images