Mavericks Hold Off the Oklahoma City Thunder in Luka Doncic’s Return

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Oklahoma City Thunder
Luka Doncic (77) passes the basketball to Marquess Chriss (32). | Image from Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, the Dallas Mavericks held on for a 95-86 win on the road over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Dallas’ leading scorer, Luka Doncic, returned from a ten-game absence due to injury and COVID-19 and finished one rebound short of a triple-double.

Doncic had 14 points, ten assists, and nine rebounds as the Mavericks won their second game in a row for the first time since December 12 and 13. Despite the solid stat line, Doncic showed rust offensively, committing seven turnovers.

“My chest was burning,” Doncic said after returning from the longest absence of his career. “When I shot it, the feeling was weird. I didn’t know if it was going in or out, airball. There was one shot; it feels like amazing. I was thinking, like, ‘you shot it great. It’s going to go in,’ but it was an airball. I didn’t know, but that’s going to come with games.”

It was apparent that Dallas did not expect Doncic to be in his best form in his first game back by the team’s heavy reliance on reserve players. Marquess Chriss and Tim Hardaway Jr. came off the Mavericks bench and tied for the team lead with 15 points. Chriss was a difference-maker, scoring his 15 points in only 14 minutes on the court.

After Oklahoma City went on a 12-2 run in the final minute to cut the Dallas lead to 90-86 with under a minute left, another reserve, Maxi Kleber, hit a crucial three-pointer to extend the Dallas lead to seven with 24 seconds remaining. Hardaway Jr. then added two free throws to end the scoring. Hardaway Jr. and Kleber were returning to action for the first time after missing six games due to COVID-19.

“I don’t wish that [COVID-19] upon nobody,” Hardaway said postgame. “You can do all the conditioning you want. All that stuff is not going to equal out to you going out there, playing a game, sliding your feet, running fast breaks, and cutting.”

The win brings the team back to .500 (18-18) and starts the new year right for the Mavericks. The team went 7-9 in a COVID-ravaged month of December when the team saw ten players miss time due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

However, the new year did not bring Dallas new fortunes of being free of COVID issues. The team’s second-leading scorer, Kristaps Porzingis, was listed as a healthy scratch from the Oklahoma City game. The following day Porzingis became the 11th Maverick player this season to be added to the COVID-19 list. He joins Trey Burke, JaQuori McLaughlin, Boban Marjanovich, Brandon Knight, and Isaiah Thomas currently on the list.

Dallas has had Doncic and Prozingis play in the same game only 15 times this season. The team is 9-6 in those games. Now, Dallas will have to wait longer to see the two paired on the court again.

For Oklahoma City, the loss drops them to 13-23, but their promising rookie guard Josh Giddey made history. The 19-year old Giddey became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double with 17 points, 13 rebounds, and a career-high 14 assists.

The Mavericks will play their next game at home against the Denver Nuggets on January 3.

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