Doncic eclipses Morant to beat Mavs ahead of Grizzlies
He may not have fully rivaled all four NFL playoff games this weekend. But Luka Doncic and Ja Morant put on their own spectacular performance on Sunday night in front of the sold-out crowd of 19,701 who stuck inside the American Airlines Center.
Doncic maneuvered for 37 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and three steals and the Dallas Mavericks made quick work of Memphis en route to a relatively easy 104-91 win over the much-improved Grizzlies. Morant replied with a career-high 35 points, matching 13 rebounds and six assists as the Grizzlies lost for the third time in five games after going 11 straight.
By winning the season series against Memphis, 3-1, the Mavs have emerged victorious in 11 of the last 13 games while extending their losing record to 27-20 heading into Tuesday’s game in San Francisco against the Golden State Warriors. They also moved within four games of Memphis (32-17) for first place in the Southwest Division.
With Doncic leading the way, the Mavs never trailed in this game. It was one of those games where whatever Morant did, Doncic could do better – and vice versa.
From a fan’s perspective, it was entertainment at its best and well worth the price of admission.
“Regardless of the scene, we knew Ja and Luka were the focal points and those two showed up tonight and put on a show,” coach Jason Kidd said. “Luka was looking for guys, Luka was aggressive, and then I know he would want me to say that, he was excellent in defense.
“He had the total package today. Not just with his stats, but defensively he was in the right place. He was great tonight.
Doncic had 11 points in the third quarter when the Mavs built their lead up to 22 points – 68-46, with 5:31 to go. And he added 12 more points in the fourth quarter, including a steal and a breakaway layup that held the lead at 85-68 with 8:50 remaining in the game.
Although he said his teammates were on his case for not ducking the ball on that particular play, Doncic defended the job he did on the defensive side of the pitch.
“I actually think I’ve improved a lot defensively,” he said. “I have been more active. Our team defense helped me improve.
The Mavs plugged the middle and blocked a season-high 12 shots against a Memphis team that leads the NBA in blocks at 6.4 per game. Kristaps Porzingis finished the night with a season-high 15 points, eight rebounds and six blocks as he made life miserable for the Grizzlies around the basket.
“He was great protecting the rim, changing shots,” Kidd said of Porzingis. “The first three or four shots (from Memphis) we gave up some offensive rebounds because he either blocked shots or modified shots.
“It’s just a shame he made a foul, but I thought he was brilliant on both sides.”
The same goes for Doncic, who said he doesn’t get caught up in playing against players like Morant, who often draws a lot of securities.
“I play every game to win,” said Doncic. “Sometimes you are going to play better, sometimes worse.
“He’s an amazing player. I’m happy we got this win today.
Dorian Finney-Smith, who has spent a lot of time chasing Morant, also said he doesn’t think about the jaw-dropping back-and-forths that occur between Doncic and Morant during a match.
“I don’t really care because when Luka scores we look good, but when Ja scores we look bad,” Finney-Smith said. “And I keep it. But we did a good job.
“Ja gets a lot of attention so when he got the ball I feel like everyone did a good job of making it difficult for him. Maxi (Kleber) is a great shot blocker and KP is a good shot-blocker so I feel like we’re one of the best shot-blocking teams as well. We did a good job tonight even though (Morant) still had (35) but I feel like it was difficult (35).
The Grizzlies shot just 37.4% from the field and it was 24and consecutive game, the Mavs held an opponent to less than 50% shooting. Memphis, which finished fourth in the league with 112.1 points per game, was also just 4 of 24 from downtown.
And the Mavs prevailed despite their overrun, 50-42, including 21-9 on the offensive side of the field.
“You have to give them credit,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “They had 12 blocked shots, so their activity around the rim was really good.
“Obviously they made big hits. Dončić is obviously a hell of a player.
Doncic, who injured his neck in last Thursday’s game against Phoenix, wore protective gear around his neck during the game and had a heating pad on his neck during time outs.
“It’s still quite steep, but once you warm up it’s a bit better,” said Doncic, referring to his neck. “But keep working on it. It’s a muscle, so it’ll get better.
The Mavs, who also got 13 points from Jalen Brunson, will hope they continue to improve and rack up more than their share of wins. They also continued their streak of not losing back-to-back games since losses to Milwaukee and Utah on Dec. 23 and 25, respectively.
“We’re chasing (the Grizzlies) – they’re ahead of us in the standings,” Kidd said. “We won the series (of the season), it’s also a rebound game (after losing to Phoenix), and that’s something with this group.
“We’re proud to come back from a loss and not lose two in a row, and we haven’t done that in a month. It just shows growth, it shows the character of this group in this dressing room, so it There are a lot of positives to take from this game tonight.
And one of the positives is that Doncic beat Morant in a duel on a night when the paying customer got more than his money’s worth.
“You’re talking about two young point guards playing the game the right way,” Kidd said of Doncic and Morant. “I think it’s great to see two young players who can play the game and who can dominate the game not only by scoring but also by passing the ball.
“You’re talking about two players who want to win and who will do anything to win, so it’s great to see the game have two young leaders in this league who can dominate the game. Ja causes a lot of problems as an opponent, and I would say Luka does the same.
They certainly did Sunday night.