CLEVELAND – It was a remarkable night watching Luka Doncic dance, shoot, pass and dominate his way to another monstrous triple-double.
What made it just a little extra special was the fact that it happened in Cleveland. Fans here have seen this before. Or at least something that bears a close resemblance.
It would be epically unfair to compare the Mavericks’ second-year superstar to LeBron James, who made his legend playing for the Cavaliers before moving on to other ports of call.
But two days after he swapped triple-double love with King James in a loss to the Lakers in Dallas, Doncic was back at it against the Cavaliers, posting his third triple-double in the first six games. And he did it in less than three quarters, just as he did against James, before turning things over to his sidekicks who buried the Cavs down the stretch as the Mavericks won 131-111.
They are 4-2 and this is the first time they’ve started 3-0 on the road since 2010-11.
Doncic finished with 29 points, 15 assists and 14 rebounds. He made nine of his 17 shots and half of his 10 3-pointers.
For the season, he is three assists shy of averaging a triple-double.
“Luka’s amazing,” said Boban Marjanovic. “You see the stats. You can’t say anything else. Just look at the stats. He’s a beast.”
And to hear people in Cleveland who were lucky enough to watch James on a nightly basis for so long, growing up fast in a cutthroat world like the NBA, you could tell that the oohs and ahhs and gasps and appreciation were very real as they watched Doncic do his thing.
As the Cavs’ Kevin Love said: “He’s a magician with the basketball and at that size, it’s hard to stop. I can’t say enough good things about him. It’s unbelievable, even from last year when he was extremely impressive, but this year he’s taken it to a whole new level”
Doncic has a long way to go to be in LeBron’s class. But he’s off to one heck of a start.
Before the game, Carlisle had marveled about Doncic’s skills. But he also had issued a word of warning about the Mavericks leaning too heavily on the 20-year-old guard.
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Carlisle said. “And unlike most young players, he is very physical. And that’s one of the things that makes him really unique. I don’t think there’s any challenge that he would ever back down from.
“I think the concern for us is taking some pressure off him from time to time so he’s not putting too much on himself to create, get into these tough, physical situations.”
It just so happened that the fourth quarter against the Cavaliers was a prime example of doing that.
Doncic had done everything to keep the Mavericks in position to win through three quarters, when they were up 90-86. But for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter, Doncic took a seat.
And the gang off the bench – let’s call them pine mulch for the way they chopped up the Cavaliers when they got in the game.
“We tried to hold them to a 20-point quarter,” said Tim Hardaway Jr., who had 12 points in 22 minutes off the bench. “That was our focus to try to get stops and push the ball and try to open the game up.
“When he (Doncic) is on the floor, we know our job. But when he’s out of the game, we just got to do a little more. The second group, we just take it upon ourselves to focus on the defensive end and getting stops and pushing the pace.”
The Mavericks did that. While the Cavaliers got to 25 points for the quarter, much of that came after the outcome had been decided when the bench went on a 14-2 blitz to start the fourth quarter for a 104-88 lead.
““Luka played really well, no question,” Carlisle said. “Really, in all areas. I thought really, top to bottom, we did a lot of good things. And Tim Hardaway probably was our key guy off the bench. He got going at one stretch and got KP (Kristaps Porzingis) a couple easy shots.”
Porzingis had six blocked shots. Marjanovic, who appears to be getting more assertive with his minutes as games go by, had 12 points and eight rebounds and played barely 15 minutes.
He was a robust plus-25 while on the court.
“Marjanovic is giving us really good minutes these last two games,” Carlisle said. “He’s plus-25 in 15 minutes, which is really amazing. It speaks to how professional he’s been staying ready. And he’s running around guarding guys on the perimeter. Obviously, he and Luka have a connection out there.”
After Sunday, it’s possible everybody who attended the Mavericks’ victory felt some sort of connection with Doncic, perhaps even linking him to LeBron.
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