Final: Mavs 110, Pacers 101

  • This was Luka Doncic’s final game as a teenager, and in the way only he could, Doncic blew away the Pacers as he prepared to blow out the birthday candles. In his last moments as a 19-year-old, Doncic scored nine points on 3-of-6 shooting in the fourth, putting the game away for good with a late step-back 3 in front of Indiana’s bench, giving him 26 points on the night to go along with 10 rebounds and seven assists.

    Doncic played 57 NBA games as a teenager, and in that time he amassed a nearly unprecedented stat line of 1,194 points, 415 rebounds, and 324 assists. The only other player in league history to meet or exceed those numbers before turning 20 years old is LeBron James. Granted, teenagers only started debuting in the league within the last three decades, but we needn’t remind you of the rare company Doncic keeps among all first-year players when it comes to per-game averages. He is a special talent, and now that the book is officially closed on his teenage years, we can begin to put into perspective just how historic his run has been to this point.

    There is still much to improve upon — his seven turnovers tonight followed up a nine-giveaway performance in L.A., for example — but he is already at a level that few players ever reach, at least statistically speaking. It’s difficult to imagine how good Doncic could one day become if he continues to smooth out his weaknesses and improve upon his strengths. It’s also nearly impossible to believe that the Rookie of the Year trophy will not be his in two months, or that by this time next year, we might be debating about other league honors. But that is for then. This is now, and right now Doncic is playing some truly incredible basketball.

  • Jalen Brunson earned a start tonight, after coming off the bench in L.A. on Monday. He responded with perhaps his best game to date as a pro, dropping a career-high 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting and adding five assists and three steals. He also finished a strong +17 in 34 minutes in a nine-point game, evidence that he was able to make things happen when he was on the floor. To wit, as the Pacers briefly opened up a lead early in the second quarter, Brunson checked back in and registered 10 points in the remaining seven minutes and change to close the gap. He also made one of the better hustle plays you’ll see, turning his own mistake into a positive play for Dallas.

    His biggest moment, however, came late in the game when he preceded Doncic’s step-back with one of his own.

    The rookie is shooting an absurd 46.9 percent from beyond the arc in his last 27 games, on more than two attempts per. That’s a particularly interesting development because in his first 26 appearances, he hit just 23.3 percent of them. Perhaps more consistent playing time has a hand in it, as Brunson’s minutes came in all shapes and sizes early in the season before he stepped into a larger role. I suppose we’ll see as time goes on. Hitting the mid-40s for an extended period of time is not easy, regardless of the number of attempts, but it’s even more difficult to maintain. Brunson hit at least the high-30s all three years at Villanova, and better than 40 as a junior, so it’s certainly possible that he’s just a good shooter who faced early struggles. That would be a terrific truth for Dallas to discover, because a quality shooter who can facilitate is an ideal fit on any roster, whether it’s with Doncic in the starting lineup or as a backup point.

  • Dirk Nowitzki got another start, and this one was his first of the season at American Airlines Center. The Big German provided 11 points, five boards, and three assists, piecing together one of his more well-rounded lines of the season. He hit two big 3s in the fourth quarter, including one which forced the Pacers to call timeout and of course brought back plenty of memories.

    Over the course of the last few weeks, and especially within the last three games, Nowitzki has shown signs that he remains much more than merely nostalgia in uniform. He’s scored in double-figures in three straight games and four out of five overall, and he’s hit multiple 3-pointers in nine of his last 15 appearances. His minutes are on the climb, and his shooting percentages are following. We can talk about next season, next season. For now, Dirk is playing his best basketball of the season and seems to almost be back. All of that has made the present quite a gift.

  • Wesley Matthews was back in town tonight, his first time in front of the Dallas crowd as a visitor since last month’s trade with New York. He put together a pretty solid “revenge game,” scoring 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting and saving some of his best stuff for the fourth quarter. He was also the primary defender on Luka Doncic all night long, and he had a big hand in forcing a few of Doncic’s turnovers. It was great to see Matthews on the floor, and he really seemed to be in his element; he and his former teammates were talking plenty of good-natured trash all night long. (Afterward, Nowitzki said that leading up to the game Matthews told him the Pacers’ scouting report for Dirk was just a photo of George Washington.) I would expect Matthews to have big games every time he comes back to Dallas, too, as he always played great in Portland as a member of the Mavs. That’s what competitors do, and Matthews certainly is one.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (27-34) will meet the Grizzlies (24-39) at home on Saturday. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.

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