Final: Mavs 106, Pistons 101
We are quickly running out of ways to describe Luka Doncic’s incredible rookie season. Friday night was yet another terrific display from the first-year player, when he became just the third teenager in NBA history to go for at least 30 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists. Doncic dominated throughout the second quarter and performed even more clutch heroics, including hitting what essentially served as the dagger, a move that was eerily reminiscent to what we’ve seen from another certain Maverick.
That move — dribble, dribble, spin, fade — is not easy to pull off at any point in the game, let alone in crunch time. But those situations have appeared to come easy to Doncic, who now ranks tied for 10th in the NBA in clutch points — defined as points scored within the final five minutes of games when the score is within five points — and he’s played fewer such minutes than every other player ahead of him on the list. He’s now 26 for 52 from the field in the clutch, tied for Kyrie Irving and Bradley Beal as tops among the top-10 in total points.
It hasn’t all been roses, of course, as the Mavs still have a losing record and for every shot Doncic has made, he’s also missed one. There are certainly some shots he’d like to have back, like his 3-pointer that rolled off the rim against Golden State with the game tied. But the fact is Dallas is now 13-14 in clutch games this season, including 12-12 when Doncic has been on the floor in those moments. After going 12-38 in such contests last season, this represents a major, major improvement, and the rookie has been a big reason why the late-game offense has surged.
Blake Griffin is incredible. The Mavericks did everything they could to try limiting the superstar, but he had an answer for every question. Facing a size mismatch? Back him down and score. They send a double-team? Swing the ball around and find a shooter. Defended by someone your own size? Run through screens to force a switch against a more favorable matchup. Griffin was incredible, and for the most part he was the reason why Detroit was able to come back and stay in the game down the stretch.
The Mavs’ answer late in the game was to move DeAndre Jordan off of Andre Drummond and on to Griffin, and beefing up the lineup elsewhere to put Maxi Kleber at power forward and Harrison Barnes at small forward. That limited the Pistons’ options as far as forcing switches go, so Griffin ended up trying to isolate against his old teammate Jordan several times, and Jordan came out the victor more often than not. These last two games have been some of Jordan’s finest work this season, in my opinion, not just on the defensive end but also at imposing his will offensively, particularly in the open floor.
This version of Jordan is an All-Star-caliber player. He only finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, which for him is almost an average night, but this was a much louder, much more impactful 13 and 11.
Dennis Smith Jr. got off to a hot start, scoring 11 points in the first quarter en route to finishing with 19 points in his second game back. He was a big reason why Dallas was able to stay within striking distance as the Pistons roared out to a Griffin-led run in the early going. Smith was dynamic off the dribble and managed to make a few nice reads to find shooters, and he made a pair of 3s as well. The flip side, though, is that Smith was really the only starter who was able to get it going in the first few minutes, as Dallas fell behind 14-8 and 17-10 before the bench came in and launched a run of its own. The Mavs’ starting lineup has been inconsistent at times, particularly in those first few minutes of games, but as Smith and Doncic continue to gain more experience playing with one another, hopefully they’ll be able to level things out a little more. Dallas was able to finish strong, for what it’s worth, largely playing starters, so the seeds for success are there.
The bench was very good again, even despite a rare scoreless outing for Dirk Nowitzki. Maxi Kleber has found his shooting stroke, connecting on a blistering 48.3 percent of his 3.6 3PA per game in his last eight contests, in addition to blocking 1.6 shots in less than 25 minutes per game during that time. Dorian Finney-Smith, meanwhile, has shot a ridiculous 56.3 percent from deep in his last five appearances. That level of shooting from two players will consistently give you a chance to win games for as long as they keep this up, and hopefully by the time they cool off a little bit, other shooters will have heated up as well. But those two have been integral to these last wins.
The Mavs (22-26) remain at home for a matchup against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. Tipoff is at 6 p.m.