NEW YORK – Luka Dončić treated this night like he treats every individual play he makes on the basketball court.
He was determined to get it right.
And he did so with his passing skills.
On a night when just about everybody was padding their 3-point shooting numbers, Dončić took charge with a massive triple-double and set up three teammates for crucial shots in overtime as the Mavericks pulled out a much-needed 129-125 victory over the struggling Brooklyn Nets Tuesday at Barclays Center.
Foiled with a chance to win in regulation when a beautiful Luka pass landed in Reggie Bullock’s hands, only to see the 3-pointer go a fraction too long and hit off the back rim, Dončić came back and fed Tim Hardaway Jr., Maxi Kleber and Bullock with passes for open 3-pointers that broke open the overtime and gave the Mavericks a comfortable cushion the rest of the way.
The outcome provided another sign of growth for Luka and the Mavericks at this early juncture of the season.
And it went beyond Dončić having a mesmerizing game with 41 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds. It’s the 47th triple-double of his career and 22nd (passing Wilt Chamberlain) 30-point triple-double.
In the overtime, he found his three different teams for 3-pointers as the Mavericks scored 11 of the first 13 points to essentially put the game away.
“That’s the growth that everyone is seeing right now,” Hardaway said. “Luka’s going to make the right pass at the end of the game. He trusts us. He did the same thing last year with Spencer knocking down the shot (Dinwiddie’s buzzer-beater against the Nets). He realizes there’s help coming. The odds are in our favor on the weak side.”
At that point, Hardaway shook his head.
“I didn’t realize he had 41,” he said. “Solid night for (No.) 77.”
Luka was the best player on the floor throughout the night, even when Kyrie Irving (39 points) and Kevin Durant (37) were sizzling. Luka willed the Mavericks to improve to 2-2 and split the two games on this quick road trip. They also were an incredible 20-of-40 on 3-point shots against the Nets.
“We could easily be 4-0,” Luka said. “But we’re 2-2. We didn’t execute the last game and at Phoenix. But we worked on it. Tonight, we executed very well.”
That growth might be slow, almost glacier-like. But it’s happening. And the fact that coach Jason Kidd went with a different group down the stretch and in overtime was proof that this team is going to be a champion of diversity. Everybody is going to get their chances to chip in.
Christian Wood and Dinwiddie could not get back into the game down the stretch of regulation or in the overtime because of how well Hardaway and Kleber were playing.
“The group that was playing, they were going,” Kidd said. “Tim played great. We could have played Greenie (Josh Green) more. He was great for us off the bench. With the depth we have, someone has to sit. Someone has to be unselfish or sacrifice.
“We didn’t bring back Spencer, either. It wasn’t just C-Wood. And that just shows the character of this group. We’re going to see a lot of different combinations as the season goes on to see who can deliver down the stretch. It’s always a feel. You got to go with the group that’s playing.”
And Luka has a way of making life easier on everybody.
“Obviously, Luka is probably the best guy to make tough shots, but also knows when to make the right basketball plays,” said Kleber. “When we came on in overtime, they were really aggressive with him and he made the right time three or four times in a row and we got hot and made all our shots. Even the last shot Reggie had before overtime was a really good look. He just plays basketball the right way.”
But while the overtime went nearly perfect for the Mavericks, the end of regulation was a grind. An Irving 3-pointer from Luka-ville that made it 110-106 as the Nets had run off seven consecutive points. But the Mavericks would score the next six points and were up by two with 1:10 to go.
The last minute dripped with drama. Luka thought he had a layup on a goaltending call, but it was revered, correctly, it appeared, when reviewed by the refs.
Then he committed a turnover – caused by the most maligned Brooklyn Net of this early season, Ben Simmons – that led to a Durant dunk, tying the game with 8.8 seconds left.
Luka penetrated and whipped a pass to Bullock on the left wing. His 3-pointer was straight on line, but a fraction too hard and hit off the back iron, bringing on overtime.
“I thought he really controlled the game, but I thought the trust with his teammates, especially that last play to somehow some way find Reggie for a wide-open look,” Kidd said. “You can say, why didn’t Luka shoot it? But it just shows his trust level in his teammates. And then after that, to trust his teammates to knock down all the shots. We made three in a row in overtime. He delivered.”
Ntilikina on “right track:” Guard Frank Ntilikina has yet to play this season because of a right ankle problem.
He suffered the injury at a practice just before the regular season was set to begin.
“It’s getting better,” he said before Thursday’s game. “I’m on the right track. I started running and moving around a little bit.
“It’ll take a good workout to see where I am and what I can do with the ball live speed. And we’ll see what’s going on. Hopefully I’ll be back soon.”
Ntilikina said he couldn’t remember a specific play when the ankle was injured.
“My ankle just got really inflamed,” he said. “It puffed up. But it’s a long season. I just want to get it right.”
Old rivals: Not that they are old, that is, but Jason Kidd and Steve Nash have been going against each other for the better part of 30 years, ever since they were in different colleges in the Bay Area.
Asked about the friendship over the years and getting to coach against Nash now, Kidd said: “I think we’d rather be playing.”
Turning serious, he said that Nash is in a wonderful position in Brooklyn, despite the Nets’ early problems this season.
“His IQ is off the charts. I’m happy that he’s coaching,” Kidd said. “He has two future hall of famers (Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving) to help him. I know he’s getting a lot of flak. He’s a young coach. You got to give him time, too.”
Nash said the roots run deep between him and Kidd.
“We played against each other in college, worked out together in the Bay Area, teammates at Phoenix,” he said. “It’s great to be able to compete against him still.”
And, as a bonus, Kidd said: “We don’t have to ice our knees or back,”
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