Dante Exum has been a bright spot for the Dallas Mavericks. In Wednesday night’s 127-125 win over the NBA In-Season Tournament champions Los Angeles Lakers, Exum showed that he can be more than just a role player filling spot minutes. He showed that he can step up and help carry the team in big games.
Exum erupted against L.A. in the fourth quarter. Knocking down shot after shot, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the rest of the Lakers must have felt like they were in Dante’s Inferno. Exum poured in 17 points in the frame, connecting on five three-pointers. It was the best single-quarter scoring performance of his NBA career.
“Tonight, they left me wide open. I had no choice. I was forced to shoot, and I showed the confidence that I was going to sit there and shoot,” Exum said during his postgame press conference. “I am thankful for the result. But the mindset going forward is those are the shots I have to keep shooting if they are going to play me like that. I’ve had a solid shot, I want to speed it up a bit. It is just stuff I am going to keep working on, but I want to speed it up if they close out strong.”
His hot shooting couldn’t have come at a better time. After building a 15-point lead, the Mavericks squandered it away in the third quarter. The Lakers scored 34 points in the period to give them a 95-93 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The two teams would jockey back and forth in the final quarter, but every time the Lakers seemed to gain momentum, Exum was there to squash it.
His first two triples in the quarter helped give Dallas one-point leads. Exum’s next three buckets, two threes and a two-point layup, helped the Mavericks build a 118-111 lead with four minutes to play. L.A. stormed back as Austin Reeves knocked down a three to bring the Lakers within 124-121, but Exum was ready. On the next possession, he hit another three and sealed the game.
“[He was] amazing,” Luka Doncic said of Exum after the game. “Obviously not just tonight, but I think tonight was his best game. His plays, his defense, and obviously his shooting today. He has been amazing for us.”
Coming into the game, Exum had made just eight three-pointers all season on 28 attempts. He finished the night with 26 points — the second-best scoring mark of his career — and a career-high seven made three-pointers. Exum also recorded a career-long three-game streak of 15 or more points. Teams will have to think twice before leaving him open after this performance.
“I think it started in L.A., and then a lot of teams started to put their five on me,” Exum said. “So, ever since then, I have been in the gym working. Credit to the staff and even our players. Constantly trusting me to shoot the ball and to pass it to me. It was trust in myself and confidence to keep shooting it.
“I think how Luka plays, and he can find anyone at any point. Knowing guys are going to help off to double him, and I have to be ready. I try to put myself in the situation where I can be on the floor. I don’t want to be the guy that is taken out because I can’t hit that shot.”