Thankfully, there wasn’t a massive meltdown this time around.
If nothing else, the Mavericks responded masterfully to a furious late rally by the Philadelphia 76ers Thursday night, thanks in large part to incredible performances by their fierce tandem that is comprised of Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving.
Dončić, the NBA’s leading scorer and the presumptive frontrunner for league MVP, and Irving, who joined Dallas in a blockbuster trade February 6, exemplified a sense of urgency from the outset and never let up. The budding superstars combined for 82 points as the Mavericks held on for 133-126 win before an announced sellout crowd of 20,002 in American Airlines Center.
Dončić and Irving became the first Mavericks teammates in team history to record 40 points in the same game and the fifth pair of teammates in NBA history to accomplish such a feat over the past 30 years.
Dončić registered a game-best 42 points on 13-of-shooting, including connecting on 7-of-13 shots from 3-point range. Irving, meanwhile, finished with 40 points on 15-of-22 field goals, including 6-of-8 from beyond the arc.
“I think everybody has seen that. Two elite scorers, two elite playmakers that, once they get going, it’s difficult to slow them down,” 76ers superstar James Harden said of Dončić and Irving. “I mean, it felt like the entire team made every shot. They shot over 50 (percent) from (three-point range). They shot a lot of threes and made most of them. When a team gets that hot, it’s difficult to win. We gave ourselves a chance, but they just literally made everything.”
Clearly, Dončić and Irving’s remarkable performances were much-needed for a Dallas team that still doesn’t boasts much of a reliable supporting cast and nearly squandered a huge lead for the second time in its last three outings.
After Sunday’s disheartening setback against the Los Angeles Lakers after which the Mavericks led by as many as 27 near the midway point of the third quarter, Thursday’s game seemed as if it would be a disastrous repeat.
After a 3-point basket by Dončić had increased the Mavericks’ lead to 107-82 with 3:43 remaining in the third, Philadelphia rallied in the final frame, having outscored Dallas, 35-23.
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A driving floater by Tyrese Mackey capped a crucial 17-0 Sixers run that bridged the third and fourth quarters with 9:22 remaining, trimming the Mavericks’ lead to 110-106.
However, Dallas would respond with a 12-2 spurt over the ensuing three minutes to lead 122-108, thus effectively putting the game out of reach.
Thursday’s win snapped a two-game winless streak for the Mavs (33-31), who currently occupy the sixth spot in the Western Conference with 18 regular season games remaining.
“I thought our leaders when you talk about Luka and Kai, they were great on both ends of the floor,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “Offensively, both having 40 and 42, but those guys set the tone from the first quarter. You know those guys were trying to lead their team to victory and you know Kai’s sub pattern kind of changed. I was asking ‘Do you want to come out?’ And he was like, ‘No.’ We let him go a little bit, but you can see those two working together was at a high level against a very good team.”
In dropping three of its last four games, Philadelphia witnessed five players score in double figures, including four starters.
But after surrendering an uncharacteristic 71 first-half points to the opposition, the Sixers (40-22) subsequently shot 41 percent from the field in the third and were outscored, 39-24, in the process as Dallas’ four-point halftime lead had swelled to 110-91 with 12 minutes remaining.
Besides Dončić and Irving, Reggie Bullock was the only other starter to finish in double figures with 15 points, each of which came from 3-point range (5-of-10 field goals). Christian Wood was the lone Mavs reserve to score in double figures with 10 points in 14 minutes.
Joel Embiid scored a team-high 35 points, Maxey managed 29, and Harden 27 for the Sixers, who will welcome the Mavs in a March 29 rematch in Philadelphia.
“I just embraced my teammates. It was a hard-fought game and we did everything to make sure we were poised down the stretch,” Irving said. “We were just paying attention to the game plan. There’s been a few losses over the last week where we felt like they could have been winnable games. It was definitely a different approach tonight for us as a team, because we really wanted this.
“I wanted this. But I think, like I said, last time I was sitting up here, I just had to join the party and make sure my teammates were going to follow along. Luka was ready for the party. I was ready for the party tonight, and it was one of those games where we had some special performances and I’m just grateful that the work translated because it could’ve gone either way.” — Andre Johnson
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