This was yet another sterling chapter in a spectacular game where Luka Doncic was playing chess and everybody else was playing checkers.
In a Sunday afternoon game inside the bubble in Orlando that undoubtedly will be on the NBA Classics’ list, Doncic drained a dramatic game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to guide the wounded Dallas Mavericks to a stunning 135-133 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 4 of their first-round series. The buzzer-beater by Doncic knotted this best-of-seven series at 2-2.
The game had so many subplots, starting with Doncic being a game-time decision after he sprained his left ankle Friday in Game 3. But as soon as the Mavs got news that Doncic would indeed play, they were served another layer of bad news when Kristaps Porzingis was scratched due to soreness in his right knee.
And when the Mavs came out looking lethargic in falling behind by 21 points midway through the second quarter, all seemed lost.
But Doncic started to show his superior talent, and teammates Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Seth Curry and others found a surge of energy, and the Mavs suddenly started looking like the No. 1 offensive efficiency team in NBA history.
“This is definitely a memorable game,” said Burke, who had 25 points on 10-of-14 shots. “We know it was only Game 4 of a first-round playoff series, but I think this particular game is going to be a memorable game for years to come just because of the circumstances.
“KP, a game-time decision which, now that we won, I’m kind of glad he did (sit), because we’re going to need him for Game 5. But I saw him in the warmups, I saw how he was moving. He wasn’t moving like himself. And you’ve got the Luka situation, him rolling his ankle the last game and him being a game-time decision. It just shows the resilience that this team has. Next man up mentality.”
Even so, Burke admits it tested the Mavs’ mental capacity big-time as they tried to stay in a game when absolutely nothing was going their way.
“Honestly, it was a little deflating,” he said. “We did a good job staying together. We knew that being down 20 in this league, honestly, is kind of like being down nine or 10 points. It just depends on what perspective you have. We kept a positive perspective, went back out there and stayed together.”
And the Mavs did all this with the Clippers getting 36 points from Lou Williams, 32 from Kawhi Leonard, and with Marcus Morris Sr. draining a 3-pointer to put LA up, 133-132, with just nine seconds remaining in overtime.
“We just kept playing and kept playing,” said Curry, who tallied 15 points on his 30th birthday. “We knew if we could get it going, they still can’t guard us. Nobody on the floor can guard us when we can get it going.
“We had to just find a little bit of energy at the beginning of the game when KP went out before the game started. Once we figured it out, we just kept competing and competing and fighting, and we deserved this win tonight.”
Doncic sure kept competing and fighting, even if he was running on adrenaline. The second-year superstar finished with 43 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists while recording his second straight triple-double.
It was one of the most spectacular performances in NBA playoff history.
And he continues to do amazing things against one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. Even when the Clippers were talking trash to Doncic, it seemed like they were pouring gasoline on a fire.
“That’s one of the first things I saw about him last season is it don’t matter who’s talking to him — he’s not going to back down.,” Burke said. “To be honest with you, that raises his level, and tonight that’s what happened.
“Obviously, it was a little chippy on both sides. And Luka just raised his level of play — just like a star should — and we followed behind him.”
Just like his teammates, guard Tim Hardaway Jr. has seen Doncic raise his level of play time and time again to extraordinary levels. And he did it again against a Clippers’ squad who seemingly were poised to go up 3-1 in this series.
“That’s why they call him “Luka Magic,” man,” said Hardaway, who tallied 21 points. “You guys call him ‘Luka Magic.” I call him ‘The Don.’
Whatever moniker Doncic answers to, it’s safe to say he’s a nightmare to defend.
“That’s who he is, that’s what he is every night for us,” Curry said. “He’s got the ball in his hands making plays.
“As soon as we knew he was in the lineup, we knew we were going to get something special from him tonight.”
And it doesn’t get any more special for a player than releasing the ball, the buzzer sounds and the game-winning shot flies through the basket. That’s what Doncic delivered on Sunday.
“With Luka’s shot, man, it happened so fast,” Burke said. “It was just kind of like a blur, to be honest.
“Morris hit a big three and we called timeout. Obviously, everyone in the huddle was a little down because we didn’t necessarily want it to go down to the last shot to win the game. But that was the situation, and big-time players make big-time plays. And he’s a big-time player.”
And because of Doncic’s big-time shot, the Mavs know this gives them all types of big-time confidence going into Game 5. In re-living Doncic’s game-winner, Curry said:
“It doesn’t get much bigger. In the playoffs, game’s on the line, down (one point). Not just a tie game, but down. It’s a little bit more pressure on it.
“And he stepped up and knocked it down. But that’s what we expect of him. He’s a big-time player and he’s getting better and better.”