Here are my 5 takeaways from the Dallas Mavericks’ 123-120 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night at American Airlines Center:
1. LUKA WENT BERSERK: For all of the spectacular games Luke Doncic has pieced together this season, none rose to the level of what he accomplished against the Raptors. Not only did Doncic record his second career triple-double, but he did it in a fashion that left him a place in the NBA record books. Overall, Doncic scored a career-high 35 points, hauled in 12 rebounds and distributed 10 assists. Thus, at 19 years and 333 days old, Doncic is the first teenager in NBA history to record multiple triple-doubles. He also supplants LeBron James to become the youngest player to pick up a triple-double that involved at least 30 points. In addition, he joins Michael Jordan, Jason Kidd and Stephen Curry to become the fourth player in the last 35 years to register a triple-double that includes 35 points.
2. LUKA WENT BERSERK PART II: Ok, it’s one thing to collect a triple-double. Lots of players do that. But to do it against the team with the third-best record in the entire NBA, and against a player (Kawhi Leonard) known for handcuffing players and throwing away the keys, now that’s something totally extraordinary special. Against the Raptors, Doncic did practically whatever he wanted to and whenever he wanted to do it. He didn’t care who was guarding him. If this was Doncic’s way of sending a message to the Western Conference coaches before they turn in their ballots by Tuesday’s deadline to pick the seven reserves for next month’s All-Star game, well the message got texted and emailed all in the same day. In other words, for the umpteenth time, Doncic proved that he belongs on the All-Star stage – this year!
3. FREE THROWS. . .ARE FREE: The Mavs were 23-of-34 from the free throw line on Sunday. Do the math. Nobody’s perfect. But if the Mavs go, say, 27-of-34 from the charity stripe, they’ll win this game by one point. The problem with all of the missed free throws is that it’s been a recurring event. In 49 games this season, the Mavs have missed 10 or more free throws in 11 different games. The Mavs know that’s way too many missed opportunities for a season, let along at this point in the season. Even the extremely reliable Dirk Nowitzki, who is a lifetime 87.9 percent shooter from the free throw line, missed two of his three charity tosses. It’s the first time Nowitzki has missed multiple free throws in a game this season. The Mavs have missed 10 or more free throws in three of their last nine games.
4. FINNEY-SMITH SHINES AGAIN: Once again, Dorian Finney-Smith proved his value to the Mavs. Whether it’s as a starter — which was the case 11 times this season when Finney-Smith started in place of ailing teammates — the third-year veteran has been a model of consistency for the Mavs this year. Most of the damage by Finney-Smith has been done off the bench. That’s what occurred Sunday against the Raptors when he scored 13 points, grabbed five rebounds, recorded a game-high three steals and blocked a shot. Finney-Smith was 6-of-9 from the field against Toronto. It’s the most field goals he’s made in a game this season besides the eight – on 10 attempts – buckets that he connected on during the Nov. 2 contest against the New York Knicks.
5. THE THIRD QUARTER DEFENSE: After giving up 70 points in the first half on Sunday, the Mavs rolled their sleeves and allowed Toronto to score just 15 points in the third quarter. The defensive performance was reminiscent of the Mavs’ game against Orlando on Dec. 10 when they held the Magic to just 13 points in the third quarter. The Raptors scored 38 points in the first quarter on 10-of-23 shots – they were 7-of-11 from 3-point land. Toronto added another 32 points in the second quarter on 10-of-21 shots, and also made 4-of-9 baskets from behind the 3-point line during that 12-minute period. But in the third quarter when the Mavs dug deep and climbed back in the game, they held the Raptors to just 4-of-19 shooting from the field, including 1-of-7 from 3-point range.