PHOENIX – Luka Doncic continues to play some of the most phenomenal basketball the NBA has seen in decades while also putting up spectacular numbers.
Leaving one member of the Phoenix Suns after another in his wake time and time again, Doncic poured in a career-high tying 42 point, grabbed nine rebounds and distributed 11 assists as the Mavs rallied from a 10-pint second-half deficit to upend the Suns, 120-113, Friday night before a sellout crowd of 18,055 at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
It was a serious bounce-back game for Doncic, who struggled to score 22 points on 4-of-14 shooting during Tuesday’s 15-point home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Doncic quickly put everyone on notice that he wasn’t about to have back-to-back off games as he finished the first quarter with 14 points, six rebounds and six assists, and added another 16 points in the third quarter.
“He’s a great player,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Great players have a short memory for tough games and they move forward and they’re always thinking ahead.
“They’re always thinking about the next challenge, and he was spectacular tonight from start to finish. He hit the floor hard twice, which everybody saw, but he’s an extremely tough hard-nosed guy who seemingly always bounces back up and keeps playing. He’s an amazing player.”
With the win in the opener of this three-game road trip, the Mavs improved to 12-6 headed into Sunday afternoon’s game at the Los Angeles Lakers.
Friday’s game turned very chippy as two players on each team were assessed technical fouls, and Dorian Finney-Smith was tagged with a Flagrant-1 foul. Suns center Aron Baynes was in the middle of a lot of the physical action, and that didn’t surprise Kristaps Porzingis.
“I knew what Baynes was trying to do,” Porzingis said. “He gave me one shove already, and then the second one when we were crossing paths.
“He was trying to get the crowd into it and bring their energy up, and he did a good job. That’s good play on his part. It was a physical game – a lot of pushing and shoving – and I like how we kept our composure.”
Indeed, the Mavs were down, 74-64, with 5:08 left in the third quarter and seemingly on the ropes. But Doncic scored 12 points, Tim Hardaway Jr. had five, and Finney-Smith and Delon Wright each added a 3-pointer and the Mavs caught the Suns at 89-all by the conclusion of the third quarter.
And in the fourth quarter, Seth Curry tallied eight of his 11 points, and Doncic and Hardaway popped in seven points apiece as the Mavs made themselves right at home on the road, where they have mounted a 6-2 record this season.
Doncic explained that knifing his way through the Suns’ defense and getting in the paint was critical to his success on Friday.
“We played our best when we get a lot in the paint, so that was key for us,” said Doncic, who was 12-of-24 from the field and 15-of-18 from the free throw line. “We just stick together as a team. Everybody helped each other and just play on.”
The Mavs won despite Porzingis scoring just two points and going 0-of-8 from the field. However, the 7-3 power forward did play some sticky defense and wound up with 13 rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
Porzingis acknowledged that he’s struggled sometimes throughout his career with how to make an impact when his shot isn’t falling.
“Tonight I felt like in that sense I gave a step forward where the offense wasn’t going for me, (and) I wasn’t trying to force it too much,” he said. “I was just playing through my teammates and tried to do the rest of the stuff I can do out there – rebound, block shots.
“I think I played great defense – pick-and-rolls. There’s much more to my game that I can do and I think I made a big step forward. I’m proud of myself for not falling into that when I’m not playing well offensively, I’m kind of frustrated and nothing’s going well, so that was a step forward for me today.”
Hardaway also made another giant step forward as he continues to shine on both ends of the floor. Hardaway finished with 26 points and made 6-of-9 shots from beyond the 3-point arc, and also helped the Mavs limit Devin Booker to just 18 points on 6-of-16 shooting.
“It was a great way to come back and try to get a win away (from Dallas) after that loss at home against the Clippers,” Hardaway said. “I’m happy with how we all came in and came and got the win.”
Meanwhile, Suns coach Monty Williams was not at all happy with the way his team couldn’t get a firm grip on Doncic, who at one point had blood coming from his face after he hit the floor.
“That’s who he is,” Williams said of Doncic. “Porzingis didn’t have it going, so (Doncic is) hitting shots seven, eight feet behind the 3-point line.
“You got to get up. And then finishing at the basket, some of those shots I thought we played good defense. He just got around us.”
Doncic put another entry in the history books as he joined Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook as the only players in NBA history to go through an entire calendar month while averaging a triple-double which included averages of at least 30 points per game. Doncic averaged 32.4 points, 10.3 rebounds and 10.4 assists in the 14 games the Mavs played in November.
“It’s surprising, but it’s not shocking,” Carlisle said. “He’s just an exceptional player, an exceptional person and he’s exceptionally tough.
“You don’t find that combination in 20-year old guys coming into the NBA very often. But he’s having a spectacular year. Just absolutely breathtaking.”