No one will ever discount the importance of Luka Doncic to the Dallas Mavericks. But leave it to guard Josh Richardson to also explain just how important Dorian Finney-Smith is to the Mavs on the defensive end of the floor.
This past Friday while Finney-Smith was not with the Mavs due to the birth of his son, Portland’s backcourt of Damian Lillard and C. J. McCollum combined for 63 points on 21-of-42 shots and 11-of-23 buckets from 3-point range as the Trail Blazers defeated Dallas.
But with Finney-Smith back in uniform for the rematch on Sunday, the Lillard-McCollum combo tallied just 32 points on 13-of-31 shots and missed all 12 of their 3-point attempts as the Mavs blew out the Blazers, 132-92, at the Moda Center. It was the 13th victory in the last 18 games for the Mavs (22-19) going into the finale of this three-game trip Wednesday night in Minnesota.
It was a suffocating defensive performance by the Mavs – along with another amazing offensive display from Doncic – that handed the Blazers (25-17) their worst loss of the season. Thanks to the Mavs’ biting defense, the Blazers only shot 38.2 percent from the field and were just 9-of-41 from downtown as they had their streak of converting at least 10 shots from 3-point land snapped at 54 games in a row.
“It’s always good to have Doe back,” said Richardson, referring to Finney-Smith. “He does the little things.
“He’s giving all his energy on defense every time down the court and that’s all you can ask for. To have my defensive partner back out there with me was good.”
For the Mavs, it also was good to open up the third quarter with a blistering 19-0 run which widened their lead to 84-54 and left no doubt about how this one was going to end.
With Finney-Smith and Richardson bringing the defensive heat, Lillard (19 points, 0-of-7 from downtown) and McCollum (13 points, 0-of-5 from 3-point land) had very little room to roam.
“Dorian Finney-Smith got the defensive belt tonight for his effort holding Lillard to a very reasonable number, and everybody else did a great job as well,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s obviously a great effort by our guys, a great bounce-back from a disappointment a couple of nights ago.
“(Assistant coach) Jamahl Mosley did a great job with some adjustments that we needed to make in this game and our guys did a great job of executing. We had some adjustments that really made sense. We did a couple of things that were a bit unusual, and Jamahl was able to sell it to our guys.”
And of course, there was Doncic, who continues to paint one masterpiece after another while remaining in the NBA Most Valuable Player conversation. On Sunday in just three quarters of work, the third-year point guard poured in 37 points and was 8-of-9 from beyond the 3-point arc.
The eight made three-pointers ties Doncic’s career-high that he converted during a Jan. 17, 2020 game against the Blazers.
“Luka was just phenomenal,” Carlisle said. “When he’s in that rhythm and is mixing in the drives and the threes, he’s virtually impossible to deal with, and tonight he showed how great he was.”
Overall, Doncic was 13-of-19 from the field in just 30 minutes and scored 24 of his points in the first half, which ended with the Mavs nursing a 65-54 lead.
“It was special when you feel like this,” Doncic said. “The way I felt today I think they were good shots, but sometimes they’re not.
“I just got to depend on which moment of the game it is and I just got to control the shots.”
After falling behind 16-9, the Mavs were certainly in control for the balance of the game as they shot 55.8 percent (48-of-86) from the field and a sizzling 51.4 percent (19-of-37) from behind the 3-point line. Things were so one-sided that the Mavs led, 103-69, after the third quarter and by as much as 45 points – 132-87 – when Dwight Powell drained a 3-pointer with 2:13 remaining in the game.
“We were able to get it going and the snowball was just coming down the mountain,” Carlisle said. “Nights like that are fun, but they don’t happen very often and you’ve got to enjoy it when it happens.
“And we’ll enjoy it for a day or so and then come tomorrow or Tuesday we’ll start focusing on Minnesota.”
Richardson, in addition to his sterling defensive output, was able to pour in 21 points on 8-of-11 shots after scoring just four points on 2-of-9 shots during Friday’s loss to Portland.
“I was pretty upset with myself (following Friday’s game), because I felt like I played (terrible) the other day,” Richardson said. “I hold myself to high standards, so I was very not happy with myself.
“I had a rough couple of days, but the league is confidence and make or miss.”
Finney-Smith finished with 13 points and five rebounds, Kristaps Porzingis contributed 12 points, eight boards and two blocked shots, Tim Hardaway Jr, scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds, and Powell added 11 points in just 13 minutes.
“These guys have been playing great,” Carlisle said. “This is not to say that we’re Masterlock by any stretch, but we did a great job tonight. They had an off night and we had something to do with it.
“In the second quarter we concentrated strictly on ourselves and our game and we had a terrific second quarter, outscoring them 38-24, and then we just took the momentum into the third. It started off with hitting a three on the first possession and we had good rhythm going defensively and our guys were really determined.”
Said Richardson: “I think we caught a couple of breaks. Dame missed a couple that he normally makes, but I would attest that to Doe — just having those footsteps always around him. It’s never easy with a 6-8 guy just chasing him around like that.”
For Mavs’ opponents, it’s also never easy chasing Doncic around.
“It’s always a delicate balance when you’re talking about a team game like basketball where there’s so many different people involved and so many different situations,” Carlisle said. “But tonight it was spectacular to watch, and (Doncic) made it look effortless.”