Dallas Mavericks point guard Luka Doncic was in the midst of another ubiquitous performance during Wednesday’s 105-89 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers when the unforgettable magical moment happened.
It was one of those shining turn of events during this nationally televised game where, years from now, folks will probably still be talking about it.
Matched up on the right side of the court against Clippers defensive wiz Paul George, Doncic did a shake and bake move on George, crossed him over, and George wound up awkwardly stumbling around the American Airlines Center floor. Keeping his eyes on the play that was already drawing a buzz, Doncic then buried a game-sealing jumper that put the Mavs ahead, 102-89, with 1:26 remaining.
That play epitomized what type of night it was for Doncic, who caused the Clippers a degree of angst all night while finishing with 42 points, six rebounds, nine assists, three steals and two blocks. Asked about the play in particular, coach Rick Carlisle said:
“I’ve got too much respect for Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, (Clippers coach) Ty Lue and all those guys over there. I know what kind of team and kind of competitors they are. I’m not going to say anything about Paul George — he may have slipped on the floor or something like that.
“But Luka’s a great player, and he has the ability to make these stop on a dime plays that are really exceptionally special.”
And because of it, the Mavs were able to increase their record to 21-18 after winning for the 12th time in their last 16 games. They also avenged Monday’s 109-99 home loss to the Clippers, who left Dallas with a 26-16 record.
In reaching 40 points for the ninth time in his career and the fourth time this season, Doncic was 16-of-28 from the field, including 6-of-11 from behind the 3-point line. And he was almost equally effective in each half as he poured in 22 points in the first half when the Mavs led, 56-51, and added 20 more points in the second half.
“You see him attack the guys and he takes like an easy step and it looks so simple for him,” said Maxi Kleber, who scored 12 points. “But every time he shoots it you think that’s cash, because he creates a little bit of space, and he doesn’t need much.
“Then he shoots it, and every time the ball goes up I think it’s a basket. Today, he just did incredible things.”
As a whole, the Mavs did some incredible things on the defensive end of the floor as this was just the second time all season the Clippers have been held under 90 points. The only other time also was against the Mavs during that 124-73 beatdown they handed the Clippers on Dec. 27.
The Mavs also outrebounded the visitors, 43-37, and slammed the door as they outscored the Clippers in the fourth quarter, 28-18.
“I felt like I didn’t have enough energy the last game and I felt like they tried to play harder than us the last game,” said guard Josh Richardson, who won Defensive Player of the Game honors and also finished with 14 points and five boards. “From the jump I wanted to try to send a message and let them know it wasn’t going to be easy tonight.”
Carlisle described it as a hard-fought game with the Mavs shooting 50.6 percent from the field, 44.1 percent from three-point land, and standing their ground while giving the physical Clippers a dose of their own medicine.
“I was really proud of the team the way we fought throughout the game,” Carlisle said. “It didn’t start particularly well.
“They were very physical. We adjusted, we kept our poise, we kept our aggression and found ways to get shots and found ways to get some stops.”
Forwards James Johnson and Dorian Finney-Smith missed Wednesday’s game. Johnson missed his third straight game for personal reasons, while Finney-Smith welcomed a boy into the world early Wednesday morning.
That put heavier pressure on Kristaps Porzingis, and he responded with 11 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks. And that also thrust seldom-used Wes Iwundu into playing 11 minutes, and he didn’t disappoint.
“I thought Wes Iwundu tonight was a real key player in this game,” Carlisle said. “He got (11) minutes and didn’t score.
“But he gave us really solid defense on some great players and some situations where you had switching and you’re switching onto a better player –you’re switching onto a big guy — and he just really held his own phenomenally well.”
Doncic also felt the Mavs’ defense was compelling.
“I think everybody stood out,” he said. “Everybody played great defense. They had 89 points. I think that’s great defense against a really great team.”
Offensively, of course, it was Doncic who had the Clippers mired in a catch-22. They couldn’t decide whether to trap him and live with the consequences, or take their chances by playing him one-on-one.
Either way it was met with disastrous results for LA.
“They’re a really good defensive team,” Doncic said. “They have really amazing defenders, so it’s kind of tough. I think these past two games, we played hard and that’s how we’ve got to be ready for the playoffs if we make it.”
As long as Doncic is leaving top-rated defenders like George (28 points) and Leonard (20 points) flabbergasted, the playoffs are certainly in the Mavs’ future. It’s just a matter of where they wind up in the final Western Conference standings.
“I’m not surprised at all at how we came out tonight and stayed with it,” Carlisle said. “These guys have been in the playoffs, so they have a very good idea of what these types of games are like.
“As they go on in their careers there’s going to be more and more of them, and there will be more and more of them doing the regular season against big rivals, national TV, the whole thing. I do think we took some steps tonight, but the burning question is where do you take it from here.”
The Mavs, from here, will take their show on the road to play two games in Portland – on Friday and Sunday – which should offer two more stern tests.
Certainly, the Clippers were a handful for the Mavs. But when LA cut a 14-point deficit to 84-75, Doncic drifted back into the zone again.
First, the third-year pro drilled a step-back 3-pointer. Shortly thereafter he drained a jumper, then fed Kleber for both a 3-pointer and an alley-oop dunk that drove the Dallas lead to 96-81 with 4:20 left.
Not long after that came a floater in the lane from Doncic followed by that killer crossover that had George stumbling.
“Luka was spectacular,” Carlisle said. “Sometimes you simply run out of adjectives to describe how good he is.
“But he was exceptionally good tonight and we needed every point, every rebound, every assist, and defensively he was terrific as well.”