Following a four-game absence while nursing a sprained right ankle, Luka Doncic was back in the lineup for the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night and immediately created havoc for the San Antonio Spurs
Dazzling the American Airlines Center sellout crowd of 20,427 with an assortment of spectacular passes, Doncic was his old self again and showed no signs of the ankle injury he suffered on Dec. 14 against Miami. The second-year point guard amassed 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in 33 minutes as the Mavs held on to defeat the Spurs, 102-98.
The win made the Mavs the 11th team – the fifth in the Western Conference – to reach the 20-win plateau this season. It also got Sunday’s game in Toronto, when the Mavs blew a 30-point lead and lost, flushed completely out of their system.
“Predictably, it was an uneven game in certain ways with Luka coming back after 10 or 11 days,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He had a few challenges early with rhythm and getting his legs under him.
“He got into a great flow as the game went on. The game was very back and forth.”
After a slow start when they committed six turnovers in the first quarter, the Mavs settled down under Doncic as they padded their home record to 9-7.
“I’m not going to lie, I was pretty tired going to the end of the game,” Doncic said. “It’s difficult when you’re out like four or five games. You’ve got to catch up, and it’s going to get better.”
Carlisle certainly understood.
“Anytime you’re out for that amount of time and you have been a regular player playing 33 to 34 minutes, when you first come back it is going to hit you pretty quick with wind,” Carlisle said. “But as the game went on he felt pretty good in the third quarter.
“I almost had him finish the third (quarter), but then the fatigue showed in the last three minutes in that quarter, so I got him out with about a minute to go. He looked good in the last five to six minutes, so that was a big positive as well, obviously.”
In typical Doncic fashion, he got his scoring night off by slithering inside to score his first basket at the outset of the opening quarter on a short bank shot. Then, after driving into the chest of LaMarcus Aldridge and scoring, Doncic grabbed a nifty behind-the-back wrap-around bounce pass from Seth Curry and slammed it home.
“I was so happy he made (the pass),” Doncic said. “He gave me an open dunk. I don’t dunk a lot, so I was happy.”
Needless to say, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was very impressed by what Doncic was able to accomplish, although at his team’s expense.
“I hate to say this, he’s not Magic Johnson, but it’s Magic Johnson-like in the sense that he sees the floor in that same way,” Popovich said. “He’s got a real intuitive sense, and you can’t teach that.
“He’s just got it and he’s great at it. I’m not trying to put the Magic Johnson pressure on him — he’s not ready for that yet. But he’s doing a hell of a job.”
Doncic scored 10 of his points and had all three of his turnovers in the first quarter, which ended with San Antonio ahead, 24-20. The Mavs led, 52-47, at the half after Kristaps Porzingis buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer via a pass from Doncic.
Thanks to a pair of 3-pointers each by Delon Wright and Porzingis, and one apiece from Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith, the Mavs went from being up 82-79 to stitching together a 100-85 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Then, they held on as the Spurs ended the game on a 13-1 run.
“That was a great run for us,” said Porzingis, who finished with 13 points and eight rebounds. “The whole game offensively was kind of not great today for us as a team, but that was a good little run that we made there and got (the lead to 15). It brought the energy up in the building and we were able to finish out the game.”
“It was a big run,” Doncic. “I think it was the key to the game.”
Besides Doncic and Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr scored 17 points for the Mavs, Finney-Smith finished with 13 points and six rebounds, Wright had 12 points and five boards, and Dwight Powell added 11 points and seven rebounds.
For Doncic, his return to the court coincides with the huge sneaker contract he signed on Thursday with the Jordan Brand.
“I’m so happy to be part of their family,” Doncic said. “I’m very excited. I know they’re very excited too.”
And the Mavs are very excited to have their superstar point guard back in the fold.
“We were missing him,” said center Maxi Kleber, who grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds. “He’s an exceptional player – one of the best out there.
“So everybody’s just happy he’s finally back. We couldn’t wait, he couldn’t wait. It looks like he needed an extra wind, but he’s going to get into shape. It’s tough when you’ve been out for awhile.”
Doncic was just 9-of-23 from the field and also missed five of his six 3-point attempts. But for Doncic, just being back on the court was a win for him.
“I’m young, I just want to play,” Doncic said. “I got some rest, too, and I’ll just keep going.”