INDIANAPOLIS – Despite what appearances might look like, Kristaps Porzingis is far better off when Luka Doncic is playing.
So are all the Mavericks.
But it’s nice to know that when Porzingis needs to be the big dog, he’s perfectly capable of being best in show.
Porzingis took charge Monday night with a season-best 38 points to go with 12 rebounds in a 112-103 victory over the Indiana Pacers. His season high in points came three days after he’d scored a then-best 35 points at Houston.
It looks like sitting out the game in between against Atlanta did wonders for Porzingis, who was torrid from 3-point range, hitting 6-of-13 tries, and active all over the court.
His energy was contagious as the Mavericks destroyed the Pacers in the rebounding department (51-40) and were the aggressors all night as they made 23 trips to the free-throw line, making 22, which was twice as many as the Pacers shot.
“KP, he had a bunch of points, he was great from the 3-point line, the defense was terrific and he was helping other guys get open for shots,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s playing a really nice game of basketball, both tonight and in the Houston game.”
And Carlisle said the showing against Indiana proved that sitting Porzingis on the second night of back-to-back games Saturday against Atlanta was the correct decision.
“It definitely helped, there’s no question about it,” he said. “Looking at the big picture, we’re in a very dense part of the schedule. (Playing) virtually every other day, plus two back-to-backs thrown in over about a 14-day period. We got to look out for everybody. And if there’s anybody else that needs to sit a game, we’ll sit ‘em. But right now, it’s all hands on deck.”
Porzingis, actually, said he didn’t feel all that fresh on Monday. Maybe it was like somebody coming back after an unexpected day off at the office. Sometimes, it’s hard to get back into the swing of things.
But it didn’t take long to find a groove.
“I didn’t feel all that great, but sometimes when you don’t feel your best, you focus a little better,” he said. “I’m not too happy with my defense tonight. I want to be critical of myself and honest and I feel like Sabonis scored too many (points) on me tonight.”
And, as is his nature, Porzingis still wishes he could have played against Atlanta.
“I had a pretty good game in Houston, so I wanted to keep going,” he said. “But coach and the medical staff decided for me to get some rest and play this game. I’m glad we got the win in the Atlanta game and tonight’s another good win.”
The Mavericks pushed ahead in the third quarter and they limited Indiana to 39.6 percent shooting in the second half, when they outscored the Pacers 59-48.
Porzingis got lots of help from Tim Hardaway Jr., who threw in 25 points, and Dorian Finney-Smith, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds. Finney-Smith also hit the 3-pointer with 2:15 left that turned a perilous five-point lead into a 106-98 cushion that the Mavericks protected the rest of the way.
Finney-Smith said he couldn’t believe how wide-open he was on the corner shot.
“It was funny because I had just gotten one the play before when J.B. (Jalen Brunson) got the charge,” Finney-Smith said. “I knew they kept opening up our corner, so I just wanted to be ready to shoot it.”
The Mavericks are looking at three more games – minimum – without Doncic, who is out with a sprained right ankle. It has been interesting to see how they play without their leading scorer, rebounder and assist man.
Because of injuries to each player, Porzingis and Doncic have played only five games together in 2020.
“Our style changes – a more free-flowing style,” Carlisle said of playing without Doncic. “We call less plays. We’ve done this enough now that guys are getting a feel on how to play with each other when Luka is out, which is good when Luka is out. But we need Luka back.”
And he stressed that Porzingis and Doncic are better together than as solo acts.
“These guys have played very well together a lot – don’t overlook that,” he said. “They’ve played enough great basketball together to where I know they’re great together. Just because one guy’s not getting huge numbers every night, that doesn’t mean anything. It’s all about winning.”