For most of the first quarter, the Mavericks and Lakers were playing pretty even basketball. Both teams came out looking a little slow and the game looked like it was shaping up to be a semi-boring one. But the Mavericks upped the energy level toward the end of the quarter thanks to two big plays that came within 90 seconds of one another.
Play #1: Luka Doncic-Maxi Kleber Alley-Oop
This play started with Luka getting matched up with LeBron James in transition. LeBron slowed things down and tried to bring Luka into the post, but Luka outsmarted LeBron by combining the pull-the-chair move with the wrap-around-poke move, ultimately winning the possession.
Luka picked up the loose ball and Maxi Kleber immediately started streaking down the left side of the court as Luka took a few dribbles toward the middle of the court.
As I was watching this unfold right after the steal, I thought to myself, “Damn, Luka didn’t see Maxi. Oh well.” Then, 1.5 seconds later I felt like an utter fool as Luka was holding his follow-through on a no-look lob to Maxi.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Luka didn’t miss Maxi; I missed that Luka saw him all along.
The way Luka draws attention toward the middle of the floor so Maxi has more space on the left wing is next-level IQ stuff. Then he topped it off with a perfect dime that only Maxi could get to? Come on, man.
After the game, I was wondering if I was the only one not on the Lakers that was completely fooled by Luka, so I asked someone who knows a thing or two about no-look passes — Jason Kidd. But Kidd wasn’t fooled. He knew what was going on in Luka’s head.
“I could see that developing because of just the situation — Luka’s ability to pass and Maxi’s ability to jump,” Kidd told me. “Any time he can look someone off, it’s just like a quarterback and a DB.”
Kidd was spot on. The way Luka manipulates the defense in real-time feels like Patrick Mahomes looking one way and then hitting Travis Kelce in a part of the field where no one is paying attention.
The funny thing about Luka is how casual he is about a play like that. You can see the swagger on the court. I mean, he held his follow-through like he had just knocked down a 30-footer. But after the game when I asked Luka about it, he made it seem like it wasn’t that special of a play.
“I see him from the beginning,” Luka told me. “I don’t know. I mean, I played with Maxi for years so I know he’s gonna go for it. I just threw it up there and he did the rest.”
Sheesh, Luka. You could at least make it seem like it was a slightly difficult play! I mean, if that was anyone but maybe 10 current players, that’s the best pass of their career.
Play #2: Luka’s Tip Dunk
You knew this one was coming right? What else could be here?
What’s lost in just this single highlight is the possession before, which is really what led to this moment. Take a look:
I don’t know if that should’ve been called a foul or not. It doesn’t really matter. What ultimately happened is Luka went for a dunk (which is rare), and he kind of got punked. It was probably a clean block, and Luka took a hard, unlucky spill. In my head, I was thinking there was no way Luka would go for another dunk in the same game — maybe for a few games. It looked like he could’ve gotten hurt. He’d probably just settle for some floaters and safer finishes.
On the very next possession, Luka proved me wrong for the second time in fewer than 90 seconds when he followed Spencer Dinwiddie’s jumper with a thunderous, one-handed putback dunk on Dwight Howard.
Luka Dončić x Father Stretch My Hands pic.twitter.com/uKisjnXk9U— Steph (@yostephrivas) March 2, 2022
There are a few things I love about this play:
- The mere fact that Luka attempted another dunk after his miss and hard fall on the previous possession was awesome. He’s a competitive dude, and he clearly wasn’t going to have the miss be our last memory of him at the rim.
- He actually jumped really high — like really high. It’s encouraging to know he has that in him.
- The stare down was immaculate. Luka looked pissed off at the world, and he let the Los Angeles crowd know about it. After the dunk, he took five steps toward the crowd while mean-mugging the whole time. Emotive Luka is my favorite Luka.
Who knows how this game would’ve turned out had those two dunks not happened toward the end of the first quarter. Maybe the Mavericks would’ve found a different way to energize themselves, or maybe the Lakers would’ve built a nice first-half lead.
Thankfully, it doesn’t matter. Luka provided us with two gnarly first-quarter highlights that set the tone for the rest of the night.
Here’s our latest episode of Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you’re unable to see the embed below, click here to be taken to the podcast directly. Or go to your favorite podcast app and search Mavs Moneyball Podcast.