The debate about whether Luka Dončić or Trae Young was the catch of the 2018 draft will no doubt rage for years, even if the Mavericks’ point guard continues to stack up the evidence in his favor.
On Sunday night, the only thing that slowed down Dončić was foul trouble.
Even that was only a temporary road block.
After a basically Luka-less third quarter, the Mavericks welcomed their floor general back in the fourth and then took charge for a 103-94 victory over Young and the Atlanta Hawks at Airlines Center.
Dončić would finish with his ninth triple-double of the season: 18 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. It’s No. 45 of his career and the third one in the last four games.
Young? He finished with respectable numbers, 17 points, 11 assists. But he shot just 6-of-19 from the field.
That the Mavericks were able to survive the third quarter without Luka and, for the final six minutes of the frame, Jalen Brunson, was because they got major contributions from backup guards Trey Burke, Josh Green and splendid play from Reggie Bullock, who is settling in nicely as an emergency starter.
But when Dončić gets whistled for his fifth foul 53 seconds into the third quarter, it’s a queasy feeling for the Mavericks.
“I’ve never been in that situation before,” coach Jason Kidd said. “Trey, Frank (Ntilikina), Josh, those guys did a great job in the third quarter of keeping it together on (both ends). It shows that the coaching staff has done a great job of keeping guys ready when they don’t play. I thought Trey was a perfect example of that. He came in and ran the show and kept us going in the right direction.”
But they needed their leader to finish the job against a pesky Hawks team. So bringing back Luka with 10 minutes to go was the strategy for Kidd.
“I wasn’t going to bring them both at the same time just in case there was a foul called,” Kidd said. “Luka was first, he sat the longest. The 10-minute mark for him. It’s hard to sit that long and have a rhythm. But I thought he did a great job of not picking up his sixth foul, but also being aggressive and being a quarterback and finding open guys.”
And then Brunson returned a couple minutes later. He and Bullock would lead the Mavericks with 22 points each.
The Mavericks improved to 31-23 with their second win in a row after losing the opener of this six-game home stand.
The Hawks continue to struggle, falling to 25-28.
When Dončić got his 10th assist on a shovel pass to Dwight Powell for a jam, the Mavericks were up 90-86 with 4:04 to play. Bullock picked off a pass and went for a layup that was goaltended, and the Hawks missed. Luka then milked the clock and nailed a floater in the paint after getting around Clint Capela for a 94-86 lead.
Bullock’s steal was part of a very sharp night for him as he added nine rebounds to go with his point total.
“I read it a little bit,” Bullock said of the steal. “I knew there was just one person at the top of the key that he could possibly go (to) and I just shot the passing lane and ended up getting the steal. That’s what they (brought) me here for, to be a two-way player, be tough on the defensive end and take my shot when I get it.”
And that shot has been very reliable lately. In his last six games Bullock has hit almost 50 percent of his 3-pointers (28-of-57).
“He’s doing everything,” Kidd said of Bullock. “We’re asking him to guard. We’re asking him to rebound. We asked him to start the first play in the pick and roll. He’s answered the call for us. We know he had great looks early in the season that didn’t fall. And you can see our quarterbacks are trying to find him, which is kind of cool. He’s getting a lot of looks because of Luka and JB finding him.”
With Dončić missing virtually all of the third quarter with five fouls, the Mavericks lost all of a 72-64 advantage as the Hawks took advantage of the shorthanded Mavs.
From there, it was a dogfight. When Luka returned early in the fourth quarter, things changed.
He quickly got the Mavericks’ offense percolating and the Hawks never got anything rolling. They scored just 18 points in the fourth quarter, when they shot 9-of-22 (40.9 percent) and had four turnovers.
Young, who missed seven of his eight first-half shots, was hounded by the Mavericks throughout.
“We just knew in the second half he was going to get more looks,” Kidd said. “And he was going to try to get to the basket and get going, so that was going to put a little more pressure on our defense. You can’t stop him. We were fortunate that he missed some.
Dončić picked up his fourth personal foul in the final minute of the second quarter. Only 53 seconds into the third period, he picked up No. 5 – and a technical foul to go with it – and took a seat on the bench for the rest of the third.
Worse, Brunson, who was having a superb offensive night, picked up his fifth personal midway through the third quarter.
So after they started the game shy on big men, the Mavericks suddenly were without their starting backcourt, too.
They again played without Kristaps Porzingis (right knee bone bruise) and Sterling Brown (left foot soreness). They also found out before the game that Maxi Kleber would miss his second game in a row with a left knee issue.
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