Luka Dončić went into Monday evening with zero NBA playoff experience.
By the time he was done, he probably felt like a grizzled, battle-scarred postseason veteran.
Sometimes, it takes years to go through the ups and downs of learning the playoff ropes. But 48 minutes were plenty for Dončić.
The Mavericks’ point guard overcame a dreadful first few minutes of his NBA playoff career and bounced back for 42 points in the 118-110 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 of their first-round series.
“He’s amazing,” LA coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought we guarded him pretty well, forced him into a lot of tough shots, forced him into 11 turnovers.
“I thought what we did poorly, what shows his greatness, is that every time we made a mistake on the weak side, he found that guy and that guy made a shot.”
Dončić’s 42 points were the most in NBA history by a player making his postseason debut, topping the 38 by New Jersey’s John Williamson in 1979. Interestingly, Williamson also had 11 turnovers, like Dončić on Monday. Williamson also had played ABA playoff games before joining the NBA.
Dončić also had nine assists and seven rebounds, but it was the turnovers that irked him.
“I should never have 11 turnovers,” he said. “That’s 11 more possessions I can have. I’ve got to be way better than that, for sure.”
Five of those turnovers came in the first quarter, when the Mavericks fell behind 18-2 and then rallied to take a 14-point lead in the second quarter.
He certainly got the attention of the Clippers.
“He’s great,” said Kawhi Leonard. “You know what I mean? He’s very poised. He’s very trusted on that team. He can get to his spots, find his teammates, get them easy baskets. He makes tough baskets as well. He’s a great player.”
Added Paul George: “Give credit where credit is due. He played great tonight. But we got to tighten up some things to make it tougher. As good as he played, we could have limited some of the stuff and that’s what we got to work on.”
Part of what Dončić has to look forward to in Game 2 on Wednesday is a concerted effort by the Clippers to limit his playmaking.
“I didn’t mind his basket attacks,” Rivers said. “I didn’t mind his threes.
“I mind our (lack of) help so he could get the assists. I’ll give up the points to him, I just don’t want to give up the points and the assists. I think we allowed him to have both tonight.”
The Mavericks have watched Luka carve up opponents all season, so it was no surprise to them seeing him rebound from a rough start and put up outrageous numbers.
“I think he did a better job of attacking the basket and not letting the refs get to him,” said Tim Hardaway Jr. “The guy is growing each and every day, and in timeouts he’s just staying positive and being a good leader out there on the floor for us. And when he’s doing that it uplifts the group in many ways.
“He did an amazing job of showing great leadership, and attacking the basket, and not settling.”
As coach Rick Carlisle added: ““He’s a fighter. He’s always going to battle. He will never get discouraged. He’s seen everything. You can’t get too high or too low. I love that fact that we didn’t get too low when we were down 10-0 to start the game.”
Unexpected help: The Mavericks’ big comeback in the first half included a surprise appearance from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who came up big.
As part of the Mavericks’ 48-18 blitz bridging the first and second quarters, Kidd-Gilchrist threw in a couple of 3-pointers when Carlisle was searching for some sort of spark.
Kidd-Gilchrist had missed all three of his 3-pointers since joining the Mavericks in February. He’d only made 28-of-103 in his eight-year career.
No better way to earn a few more minutes of playing time than coming in and instantly providing 3-point offense.
Not so unexpected help: Marcus Morris played twice against the Mavericks early this season when he was a New York Knick. He averaged 24.5 points and hit 9-of-15 3-pointers against the Mavericks in those two regrettable losses to the Knicks.
Not a complete surprise that he came alive in the third quarter for the Clippers, who acquired Morris from the Knicks in a three-team trade in February, giving up Maurice Harkless and a couple of first-round draft picks.
Not a bad investment after Monday when Morris 19 points, including a huge 3-pointer in the final two minutes that put the Clippers up 109-102 and pushed the Mavericks into desperation mode.
“Marcus was great,” said Paul George. “He did a little bit of everything. I said it from day one, him becoming a Clipper was one of the biggest pickups that we’ve had.”
From coach Doc Rivers: “If I had to single out one guy, it would be Marcus Morris. Defensively he was phenomenal. He was actually one of our more patient players. He kind of just let the matchups happen. When (they were) in his favor, he took advantage.”