DALLAS – Luka Doncic wowed the crowd early with a four-point play after being fouled by Kawhi Leonard, and then thanked the fans after scoring one of several late points that gave Dallas a comfortable lead.
In a game that felt like a playoff series, the Mavericks won the split thanks to their young sensation.
Doncic scored 42 points, and the Mavericks retaliated for their first-round playoff opponent from last season by defeating the Los Angeles Clippers 105-89 on Wednesday night.
Josh Richardson scored 14 points and was a defensive spark as the Mavericks followed up a 109-99 loss two nights earlier to win the season series 2-1. The other Dallas win was a 51-point win in LA after three games in the season in December, about four months after the Clippers ended the Mavs in six games in the NBA playoff bubble.
“They’re a really good defensive team,” said Doncic, who scored 16 of 28 points from the field, including 6 of 11 from the 3-point range. “It’s pretty tough, back-to-back games like in the playoffs. That’s why we have to be ready for the playoffs if we can do it.”
Paul George scored 28 points for the Clippers, including two 3-pointers in the final minute of the third quarter that halved a 12-point deficit before the fourth quarter.
Doncic, who scored 22 points in the first half, took command in the fourth quarter, assisted on a 3-pointer for Jalen Brunson’s first points of the game, and hit a fadeaway jumper and a 3-pointer to extend the lead back to 12 points (87:75).
Leonard scored 20 points while Marcus Morris Sr. contributed 11 points in his second consecutive start, but made only 1 of 9 from the 3-point range while the Clippers scored 28% (9 of 32) from distance.
“For the most part, I thought we did a good job defensively, except that Luka torched us,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “I thought offensively we didn’t dare, we didn’t share the basketball anymore. We forced a lot all night.”
Richardson, who was added in an offseason trade that cost the Mavericks their best 3-pointer shooter Seth Curry as they tried to improve defensively, influenced the game exactly as Dallas had imagined.
The fiery guard had two steals in inbound sat out Dallas baskets in the first half, one of them after his own 3-pointer. Richardson, who had three steals at the end, also blocked Reggie Jackson’s dunk attempt in the transition before the halftime break.
“That set the tone for the game,” coach Rick Carlisle said of the early steals. “It’s just a signal to everyone in the arena that we’re here. He was here. And that we’re not going anywhere. It’s a big moment.’
When the Clippers tried to fight George in the fourth quarter, Doncic found Maxi Kleber for a three-pointer and then hit him with an alley-oop dunk on his ninth and final assist to extend the lead to 15 points. Kleber scored 12 points.
“He felt good and hit,” Leonard said of Doncic, who grabbed six rebounds. “It’s hard to turn off the water when such a great player gets rolling.”
Kristaps Porzingis, Doncic’s European buddy, had a quiet night on offense with 11 points but had 13 rebounds as Dallas won the battle of the boards after losing them two nights earlier.
“I’m not at all surprised at how we came out and stayed with it,” Carlisle said. “These guys were already in the playoffs. They have a very good idea of what this kind of game is like. The burning question is always where to continue from here.”
Clippers: C Serge Ibaka missed his second consecutive game with a strain in his lower back. … Leonard made both free throws in the third quarter after Carlisle unsuccessfully challenged a foul call. Tim Hardaway Jr. thought he thwarted a dunk attempt by hitting the ball off without fouling, but the replay showed he was swiping Leonard’s right hand.
Mavericks: Dorian Finney-Smith was missing earlier in the day because of the birth of his son. … F James Johnson missed the third consecutive game and will miss both of his games in Portland. Johnson must pass a series of COVID-19 tests before he can return to the team after traveling to Wyoming to handle personal matters. … Hardaway scored 15 points.
Clippers: After three games in four days, LA has two days off before a home game against Charlotte on Saturday, which has lost 10 consecutive games at Staples Center since 2009.
Mavericks: A streak of eight of nine away games begins with two consecutive games in Portland. The first is on Friday. The Trail Blazers won the only meeting in Dallas last month.