The Dallas Mavericks won a wild, historic game against the Atlanta Hawks Friday night, beating the Hawks 148-143 in Atlanta. Luka Doncic scored a career-high 73 points. Yes, he scored 73 points.
Doncic’s night broke all sorts of records, blowing past his own personal and franchise record of 60 points a season ago. He also set the franchise record for most points in a half, scoring 41 in the first.
Every single point was needed against a bad, but scrappy Atlanta Hawks team. Defense was kept to a minimum Friday night, with both teams shooting above 50 percent for the entire game.
Dallas raced out to an early 27-20 lead thanks to Doncic’s 18 first quarter points. Doncic got his first rest of the game with just under two minutes remaining, and the Mavericks gave up an 11-0 run almost immediately to close the quarter, with the Hawks have a 31-27 first quarter lead.
Doncic continued his scoring blitz throughout the game, getting the Mavericks back into it with 23 in the second, as the game was tied at 66 at half.
The Mavericks sort of controlled the second half. Well, Doncic controlled it. The Hawks finally tried a variety of defenses in the third and fourth quarters, and nothing really worked. Atlanta got the game into spooky territory a few times in the fourth quarter when Doncic’s teammates self-destructed after the Hawks doubled Doncic, but Doncic made a crucial and-1 with 50 seconds left to give the Mavericks a 143-136 lead they were able to coast to the end.
Obviously there’s only one thing that matters about this game, so let’s get to it
Luka Doncic handled his business
Sometimes adversity is good. It isn’t fun in the moment, but the aftermath is what matters. We’ve seen it in pro sports hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Mavericks fans have seen it aplenty during the Dirk Nowitzki era.
There’s been a lot of adversity for the Mavericks over the last 11 days. Admittedly I wonder if slightly exaggerated just due to the unique situation where the Mavericks played only three games and had an unexpected time off due to the Warriors game being postponed. That meant all three of those horrible, no good, mostly ugly losses had more time to stew, and not just stew with the fans and media — the players, the coaches, the staff.
You could feel that stew reach its boiling point against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, as the Mavericks gave an embarrassing performance in the second half, dropping a winnable game as the team seemingly stopped trying on the defensive end and the Mavericks star took himself out of the game by letting his emotions run too hot. He asked for a fan to be ejected, which, right or wrong, was seen publicly as a weak move from a superstar that talks about as much trash as anyone else in the NBA. To make matters worse, Doncic got into it with media after the game, as we saw the Streisand effect play out in real time.
Bottom line: none of it was a good look, and the Mavericks, and Doncic, rightfully took a beating in the public sphere. That’s how pro sports goes, and the ensuing 24 hours was a chaotic mess of wild takes, stan wars, and disappointment. The Mavericks were still 24-20, but the mood around the team was starting to feel as dark and depressing as last season, when the Mavericks let go of the rope in such a historic fashion they missed the playoffs entirely. They couldn’t possibly be facing something like that again, right? That was the question hanging over everything after the Suns loss hit the final buzzer.
So like I said earlier, the thing about adversity is the response, not the act that put you in the hole. It’s as cliche as it gets in sports — it’s about how you get up more than how you fall. I sort of get queasy thinking about how I typed that in earnest and what my professors in school would think, but sometimes, the cliche is right. What we learned tonight from Luka Doncic isn’t so much a surprise, but a nice affirmation — he is that dude.
Doncic scored 73 points tonight. Yes, 73. Count them up if you’d like, they’re all there, I promise. 73 points, a career-high, a Mavericks high, on an ethical 25-of-33 from the field only needing 15 made free throws to reach a plateau of scoring that will immortalize him forever. Also the Mavericks won! That’s pretty important too.
It’s also important how it happened, as Doncic scored 18 points very quickly in the first quarter and never relented. The Hawks are a crappy team, toiling away near the bottom of the Eastern Conference play-in race, but none of that really mattered. Just win. And it was clear from the opening tip that Doncic wasn’t going to lose this game. If you’ve watched Mavericks basketball since Dirk started doing Dirk things, you’ll have recognized this type of performance. The give me the ball, get out of the way, I’ll take us home type performance. Doncic got to the rim at will, which has been an issue for him this season. He’s been getting to the rim at career-low rates, and regardless of what factors outside of Doncic’s control might play into that, it matters that from the start of this game, a game the Mavericks couldn’t lose, Doncic set the tone with his attacks into the paint. He made nine shots at the rim tonight, and another four from the paint but away from the rim.
Hopefully, this is the part where his teammates are inspired and help pick up the slack, but that didn’t really happen. That’s okay on a night like tonight. In an ideal world, the Mavericks wouldn’t need Doncic to score 73 to beat a bad team. But adversity doesn’t wait for ideal conditions to strike. Sometimes teams just have to play the game that’s presented in front of them, and tonight was a game Doncic needed to be a superhero. Honestly, he needed to be better than a superhero, and he was.
The Hawks tried just about everything — single coverage, switches, traps, and nothing really worked. Doncic made eight three pointers, and when his three pointer is cooking, he really does feel unstoppable. Despite Doncic taking only four free throws in the first half, you never saw the exasperation, the defeated looks, the lack of energy that can plague Doncic when he knows he’s not getting the whistle he wants. Dallas defense wasn’t great, but not in the ways that Doncic plainly contributes on his worst days. The Hawks had 16 fast break points, a solid number, but not one to indicate that Doncic was spending more time talking to officials then getting back on defense.
His teammates melted down in the fourth quarter, yes. But hey, that’s the life of a superstar sometimes. Doncic or the Mavericks can’t change the roster they find themselves with during a fourth quarter Hawks run that bring the lead to three. The years of roster mismanagement don’t really matter to that dude on the court in that moment. All that matters is a win. Stop the bleeding. Fight through adversity.
Doncic didn’t crumble, and neither did the Mavericks. Perhaps Friday night is just a blip on the radar of the Mavericks recent losing ways, but for anyone that watched the game, it doesn’t matter. You’ll remember this game forever, way more than you’ll remember whatever the Mavericks traded for Grant Williams or how much money they gave JaVale McGee. That’s the part that matters, and sometimes we have to remember that.
Luka Doncic is that dude. Friday night wasn’t a revelation, but it was a nice reminder. Adversity is what you make of it. Doncic made history.