DALLAS – As the final moments of his final game as a teenage years were slowly ticking away, Luka Doncic spent those precious moments doing what any teenager in his line of work would do.
He celebrated by making one clutch 3-point basket after another.
It was an electrifying step-back 30-foot shot by Doncic with 30.9 seconds remaining that gave the Dallas Mavericks a nine-point lead, and they blew out the candles on a five-game losing streak with Wednesday’s 110-101 victory over the highly-touted Indiana Pacers before a sellout crowd of 19,978 at American Airlines Center.
The Mavs are now 27-34 going into Saturday night’s home game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Doncic, who turns 20 on Thursday, overcame some physical play by the Pacers to score a game-high 26 points, grab a game-high 10 rebounds and distributed a game-high seven assists. And his final 3-pointer was just icing on the (birthday) cake as he closed out his teenage years in grand style.
“He made, like, two or three bombs,” forward Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “I’m over here looking at him on the court and like, ‘Can you get closer?
“All of them were splashes – all net. When he has it going like that he’s hard to stop. I’m happy he ended his teens with a bang right now and I’m happy we got a win.”
Doncic was 9-of-16 from the field and 3-of-8 from 3-point land, and didn’t let the seven turnovers he committed affect the joy he had of helping the Mavs get their first win since they beat Portland on Feb. 10. He also wasn’t thinking about one of his worst games of the season when the Pacers held him to just eight points on 3-of-14 shooting during a Jan. 19 game in Indianapolis.
“I just play every game the same way,” Doncic said. “I don’t think about the other games.
“It’s too many games to think about them.”
Former Mavs guard Wesley Matthews made things difficult for Doncic as he stayed chest-to-chest with the talented rookie all game long.
“Anything involving Wes is going to be a stimulating situation,” Carlisle said. “That’s one of the reasons we loved him, that’s why we signed him (to a free agent contract) four years ago. And he played a great game as well, which was completely expected.
“But those two guys are great competitors and they also like to have fun in the heat of great competition. It wasn’t surprising to see some exchanges, but in the end they both wanted to win the game.”
Of his competitive battle with Matthews, Doncic said: “He’s my guy. He was talking a lot in the game, so it was really fun.”
In addition to Doncic, the Mavs received a career-high 24 points, five assists and three steals from rookie Jalen Brunson, and also got 20 points from Hardaway. Meanwhile, Dwight Powell scored 12 points, collected seven rebounds and picked up a pair of steals, and Dirk Nowitzki finished with 11 points, five rebounds and a season-high three assists and moved to within 69 points of passing Wilt Chamberlain for sixth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list while starting for the third straight game.
“He has earned these opportunities to start,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s great to see him in a rhythm.
“He is battling on defense, he is getting his hands on balls around the rim, he is getting a few rebounds, so it’s good stuff.”
The Mavs took the lead for good at 74-73 when Justin Jackson floated in a 3-footer with 2:12 left in the third quarter. The game remained tight throughout the fourth quarter, and a pair of 3-pointer by Maxi Kleber helped the Mavs get some distance between themselves and the Pacers (40-22).
“He played extremely well and was certainly an unsung hero in the game if you look at the overall stats,” Carlisle said of Kleber. “The two three’s he hit were as big as any shots in the game.
“Luka hit a couple of big ones in the end, and Brunson hit a big one a little earlier than that. In these tight games every shot is a big shot.”
A Doncic 30-footer and free throw – along with a trey by Brunson — bumped the Mavs’ lead to 107-99 with 1:03 left.
“I was able to make shots and I think I really just changed the game on the defensive end,” said Brunson, who was 9-of-14 from the field and 3-of-6 from behind the 3-point line. “I had a lot of energy defensively.
“My confidence level is always getting better because I’m always working as hard as I can, and that’s where I get my confidence from. So, the harder I work the more confidence I have.”
Doncic had nine of is points in the first quarter, which concluded with the Mavs down 26-25. And Brunson poured in 10 of his points in the second quarter, which ended knotted at 53-apiece.
From there, it was nip-and-tuck most of the second half, with the birthday boy having the last say and ultimately blowing out the candles on a crucial Mavs’ victory against the NBA’s fifth-best team.
So, what will Doncic do to celebrate his birthday?
“I’ll just go to dinner with my friends and family,” he said. “Nothing special.”
NOTES: Luka Doncic will be 20 years old on Thursday. But before he joins his 20s, the Mavs’ point guard left an indelible mark on his teenage years. There are only five triple-doubles by teenagers in the history of the NBA. Doncic has four of them. “Luka’s an amazing player for the age that he is,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Even when he turns 20 it’s still going to be remarkable the things that he’s doing. But these last 22 games. . .is going to be a test of how much of that load he can take on his back and to what degree he can help the guys around him be better and impact the entire game. I know he has the ability to do it, but it’s a big challenge.” So what was Carlisle doing at the age of 20? He paused and said: “I was an incoming freshman (at the University of Maine). I was in Oak Hall and playing basketball in the afternoon and studying at night, and beyond that I don’t remember exactly what was going on. Whatever I was doing was going to be way different than what Luka is doing. He’s had a remarkable season.”. .Count Mavs coach Rick Carlisle among those who are very high in Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner. The 6-11 Bedford product went into Wednesday’s game averaging 13.4 ppg and 6.9 rpg while also leading the NBA in blocks with 2.7 bpg. “Most people wouldn’t think that he was the league leader in blocks,” Carlisle said. “We all know he can block shots, but that’s a phenomenal stat. It speaks to the fact that he’s high impact on both ends, and offensively he’s a big problem. He shoots threes, he shoots mid-range, he can post, he’s a good roller, and you add that kind of rim protection to the equation, he’s a dynamo. He’s one of the great young players in the league.”. .During the first timeout of the second quarter, the Mavs showed a tribute to Wesley Matthews on the Jumbotron. Matthews played for the Mavs from 2015 until they traded him to the New York Knicks on Jan. 31. The Knicks waived Matthews on Feb. 7 and he signed with the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 10. “It felt good, it really did,” Mathews said of the reception. “I’m surprised not by the reception, but. . .I was in Portland for five years and I didn’t get one. That wasn’t a shot. I’m just saying why I was shocked. It was great and I appreciate it. I’m grateful for all the people in Dallas, the fans and the staff and all my former teammates. It was a lot of fun.”. .Dirk Nowitzki scored a season-high 15 points at Utah on Saturday and added 12 points at the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday. “It’s not surprising that he continues to get better, continues to get better, continues to get better,” Carlisle said prior to Wednesday’s game. “What can you say? The guy is a remarkable athlete.”