Luka Doncic’s triple-double propels Mavs to 3-2 lead over Thunder


OKLAHOMA CITY — Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic, quite intentionally, had no complaints Wednesday night.

Doncic entered the pivotal Game 5 against the Oklahoma City Thunder determined not to expend any energy arguing with referees. He vented frequently during a frustrating Game 4 loss, as Doncic often does. But on Wednesday, he decided that joy would be the dominant attribute of his approach to this critical contest in the hostile Paycom Center.

“Just focus on basketball,” Doncic said after the 104-92 victory that moved the Mavericks within one win of the West finals. “Remember the thing I love, the thing I love to do. Just play basketball.”

Doncic, who has been dealing with a sprained right knee, sore left ankle and the smothering defense of Thunder stopper Luguentz Dort while struggling by his All-NBA standards in the first four games of the series, responded with his best performance of these playoffs. He had 31 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.

The few conversations that Doncic had with the referees Wednesday night were brief and cordial. He avoided arguing and bickering during a game that the Mavericks led for the final 43 minutes, 59 seconds.

“I talked to them normal without complaining — nothing,” said Doncic, who recorded the third 30-point playoff triple-double of his career. “I think it was the whole game, nothing. So I just go out there and hoop. Have fun, have fun. It was the old Luka — a smile on my face.”

Doncic, who was held to 22.0 points per game on 39.0% shooting in the first four games of the series, altered his pregame routine by beginning his individual warmup about 15 minutes earlier than usual. Mavericks forward Derrick Jones Jr., who was going through his warmup routine at the same time, had a good feeling as Doncic kept draining shots.

“I was just sitting back saying, ‘It’s going to be a long day for them,'” Jones said. “I’ve always been harping on, ’77 is amazing.’ Once he gets his rhythm and he’s got it going, you can’t stop him.”

Doncic got in his rhythm right away, scoring the game’s first points when he kissed in an off-dribble fadeaway off the glass. His next bucket was a 21-footer that he launched because he got bumped by Thunder forward Jalen Williams and expected the whistle to blow. After the ball splashed through the net, Doncic glanced at referee Kevin Scott but silently jogged back on defense.

He remained poised while dominating as a scorer and distributor. He hit a handful of shots that halted Oklahoma City’s momentum, most notably a step-back 3 over Dort from Doncic’s favorite spot on the left wing immediately after the Thunder trimmed the deficit to single digits in the final minute of the third quarter. His 11 assists were highlighted by feeds to teammates for five dunks, including four alley-oops. Jones was the biggest beneficiary of Doncic drawing crowds and creating, as he scored five times on Doncic dimes and finished with 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting.

Doncic finished 12-of-22 from the floor, 5-of-11 from 3-point range and 2-of-3 from the free throw line. He laughed when asked about shooting so few free throws, saying he didn’t want to discuss the matter.

“He’s human. He’s not a robot,” Kidd said when asked about Doncic’s unusually calm demeanor. “Sometimes we just pencil in that he’s going to put in 30, 10 and 10. You know the playoffs are hard mentally and physically. Before the game, understand you are not going to get any calls on the road. You got to understand you got to play through it.”

Mavericks co-star Kyrie Irving and Kidd have both had discussions with Doncic about not getting distracted by his frustration with not getting foul calls he believes he deserves. Irving has emphasized to Doncic that the Mavericks are at their best when the MVP finalist focuses on “the bigger picture” instead of stressing about whistles that don’t go his way.

“I think he can learn from this tonight as well as all of us and just continue to affirm to himself that when he is focused on just his game and he’s focused on doing the right things, then we flourish as a team,” said Irving, who scored 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting.

“I’m not going to sit up here and complain about him when you get on the refs like the refs are perfect either. I’m not going to do that. I got to give my brother a little benefit of the doubt. Sometimes it is warranted to get on the guys that are refereeing the game, but I think he found a healthy balance tonight where he was just really focused on getting us going offensively and making the right plays and making sure that we kept our foot on the gas pedal.”

Doncic also contributed to another swarming, dominant defensive effort for Dallas. Oklahoma City finished with its fewest points in any game this season, regular season or playoffs.

Doncic sealed the win by blocking Oklahoma City superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander‘s transition layup attempt with 55 seconds remaining. Doncic kidded postgame about his All-Defensive candidacy for next season, but he is savoring the opportunity that the Mavericks have at the moment.

“This team is special,” Doncic said. “We’ve only been together for what, five months, and I’m having a lot of fun with this team.”


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