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DALLAS — Luka Doncic made a detour toward the Detroit Pistons‘ bench during a timeout with 7.1 seconds remaining in the Dallas Mavericks‘ 111-105 win Monday night.
He approached Pistons assistant coach Jerome Allen to offer a few parting thoughts, punctuating a conversation that had continued throughout the game, a final exchange that was extended as they barked at each other while Doncic slowly backpedaled toward the Dallas bench.
As the discussion ended, Doncic laughed and cracked a big smile. He had certainly gotten the final word, scoring 53 points in his return from a brief absence due to a sprained left ankle to lead the Mavs to victory.
“I mean, since the first quarter, he was chirping,” Doncic said after his NBA-leading fourth 50-point performance of the season. “You know I’ll chirp back. From the first quarter, he was chirping. I don’t want to say the words. I have no problem with that. It’s basketball. It gets me going for sure.”
Doncic glared at Allen after most of his baskets in the first quarter, when the Mavs were playing offense in front of Detroit’s bench and Doncic scored 24 points on 7-of-8 shooting. On several occasions, Doncic talked trash to Allen while jogging back on defense. That happened many more times throughout the game as Doncic tied Dirk Nowitzki for the second-highest scoring performance in franchise history, trailing only Doncic’s own 60-point outing in a Dec. 27 overtime win over the New York Knicks.
“It’s a bunch of nothing, a bunch of nothing,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “We’ve seen worse. Remember I coached Gary Payton and Kevin Garnett, so that tonight was zero as far as chirping. I liked it. I thought it really got us going, and that’s the way it should be with competitive guys. Doncic is competitive as heck. I love the way he plays, the way he carries himself, and I love the way our guys responded. They weren’t intimidated. So it’s all good. It was clean, nothing dirty about it.
“It’s good if that’s what he needs to get himself going and tell himself. But he doesn’t need any help. He’s a great player without all the other stuff, but it is what it is.”
Doncic was remarkably efficient, going 17-of-24 from the floor, 5-of-11 from 3-point range and 14-of-18 from 3-point range in his return after missing one game with the ankle injury. He was coming off the only scoreless performance in his career, having exited Thursday’s win over the Phoenix Suns only three minutes and 21 seconds into the game due to the injury.
“Obviously not 100%, but it’s good,” Doncic said of the ankle. “Did some good work.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Doncic became only the fourth player in the last 50 years to record four 50-point performances before February, joining Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and James Harden, the latter of whom accomplished the feat three times.
Dallas needed a dominant performance by Doncic, as the Mavs had to rally from an 11-point deficit in the third quarter for the win.
The Pistons frequently trapped Doncic near half court, forcing the ball out of his hands, holding him to only three points in the second quarter while his Dallas teammates struggled to hit open 3-pointers created by the attention that Detroit paid the MVP candidate.
“He’s been very unselfish with the double teams,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said. “The rhythm of those shots, we just have to be consistent with because we’re going to see that all year. Once we started to knock those down, our defense picked up.”
The Mavs made it a priority to speed up the pace in the second half to prevent the Pistons from executing their traps on Doncic. He dominated the quarter, scoring 18 points on five layups, an off-dribble fadeaway and six free throws.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to accept the coverage when they’re doubling,” said Doncic, who also had eight rebounds, five assists and two steals. “If I would have waited, they would still come double. But sometimes just before they go, attack. And attack the paint every time.”
“We’ve seen worse. Remember I coached Gary Payton and Kevin Garnett, so that tonight was zero as far as chirping. I liked it. I thought it really got us going, and that’s the way it should be with competitive guys.”
Pistons coach Dwane Casey on Luka Doncic’s trash talk
Dallas pulled within a point by the end of the third quarter. The Mavs took the lead while he rested for the first six minutes, and Doncic served as the closer, scoring eight points in the final 4:01. He hit a dagger with 46 seconds remaining, a pivoting fadeaway from the free throw line that got a friendly bounce after hitting the front rim, pushing Doncic over the 50-point barrier.
It was the fifth 50-point performance of Doncic’s career, one more than the rest of the Mavs have combined in franchise history. Only Rick Barry has more 50-point performances at age 23 or younger in NBA history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, as Doncic matched Wilt Chamberlain, LeBron James and Jordan in that category.
“He’s tough,” Casey said. “He gets you inside with his body, scores, gets to the free throw line. If not, he steps back with his 3s. If you don’t have the right personnel, the right body on him, you’ve got to play like we did tonight. I thought we did as good a job as you can do to make somebody else try to beat you. We weren’t the first and we won’t be the last.”