Luka Dončić got his 10,000-point milestone out of the way early on Christmas night, then went for 50 in yet another clutch win for the Mavs over the Phoenix Suns at the Footprint Center. After getting owned by Suns sharp-shooter Grayson Allen in the third quarter, Dončić put Dallas on his back once again in the fourth in the 128-114 win.
He scored his 10,000th career point (and his 10,001st) on a heat-check 3-pointer from halfway to Glendale with just under five minutes left in the first quarter, reaching the milestone faster (358 games) than any player since Michael Jordan did it in 303 games. It was his second 3-ball of the first quarter. Dončić hit eight of his 16 3-point attempts on the night.
Dereck Lively II was back in action against the Suns after missing the previous four games with a sprained ankle and was effective early on in pick-and-roll sets with Dončić. Lively scored twice early in the first quarter on interior buckets off the roll when Suns defenders blitzed Dončić. When Suns defenders started to respect that action, Dončić and Tim Hardaway Jr. quickly found their rhythm from deep.
Lively finished with an impressive 20 points and 10 rebounds in 31 minutes in his first game back for the Mavs, after coach Jason Kidd said in his pregame press conference that Lively would play limited minutes.
The Mavericks led 36-24 after one quarter, and their lead hovered around 10-12 points for the rest of the first half. The Suns made their pivotal run to take the lead in the third behind Allen, who had 19 points on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range in the frame, and backup big man Chimezie Metu, who had a career night with 23 points and 19 rebounds.
But Dallas outscored Phoenix 37-22 in the fourth behind 12 points from Dončić to pull out the win in the back-and-forth affair. Let’s walk through three of the biggest momentum swings that kept us glued to the game deep into Christmas night as the Mavs fended off the Suns.
Luka owns the first
Going into Monday night’s game, Dončić was tied with star Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for second in the NBA in first-quarter scoring, getting started early for an average of 9.4 points in the first frame. With the 10,000-point milestone well within his reach, he came out guns blazing on Monday, knocking down three of his first four 3-point attempts and scoring 17 points as the Mavs jumped out to a 36-24 lead after one.
The Mavs found it difficult to generate offense outside of Dončić creating his own shot or dialing up a pick-and-roll with Lively early on. But Dončić’s hot hand gave the Mavericks’ role players time to settle in when their shots weren’t falling. Dončić and Lively combined to score 25 of Dallas’ 39 first-quarter points.
Tables turned in the third
Given the hot start for Dončić and the 10-12 point lead the Mavs incubated throughout the second quarter, it would have been a tough loss to explain had the Mavs not cleaned things up in the fourth. But in the third quarter, it was all Allen and Metu, as the Dallas defense worked hard to limit the Suns’ stars, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant.
The third quarter was a Bizarro version of the first quarter, replacing Dončić and Lively with Allen and Metu, of all people. The Suns outscored the Mavs 38-27 to take a 92-91 lead into the fourth quarter. Allen finished with a team-high 32 points on 8-of-17 shooting from beyond the arc.
Mavericks guard Dante Exum made things difficult for Booker, who finished with 20 points and 10 assists on 6-of-14 shooting, for most of the night. But the real defensive gem of the night for the Mavs was the team effort on Durant, who finished with just 16 points and eight boards on 4-of-11 shooting. Dončić had a couple uncharacteristic moments of brilliance on defense as well.
Derrick Jones Jr. had a hand in that defensive effort, as did Grant Williams. Williams and Booker picked up double technicals when they got tangled up after a Williams foul in the third quarter.
The gift that keeps on giving
But Dončic, as he has been all season, was the Christmas gift that kept on giving in the fourth quarter. He scored 12 more points and had five assists in the final frame as the Mavs wrestled back control of the game on the Suns home floor. He
Dončić’s 50 points are tied for the third-most ever in a game on Christmas day. Coincidentally, after soaring past the 10,000-point marker in the first quarter, he is also now third in NBA history with a career average of 28.0 points per game. To qualify for all-time NBA leaderboards, a player must have registered at least 10,000 points in his career.
Jones (23 points) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (18 points) hit three triples apiece in the win as well.