There is a saying that states when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

For the Dallas Mavericks, going 0-3 since losing Luka Doncic to injury means the going has gotten tough. Now it’s time for Dallas to see if it can get going.

After dropping Sunday night’s game against the LA Clippers by way of another fourth-quarter stumble, the need for Doncic to come back sooner rather than later was clear. The defense played well, and Kristaps Porzingis was fine, but closing the game out proved difficult – even with Dallas scoring nearly 30 points in the quarter – without the unquestioned on-court offensive leadership of Doncic, again.

“In the fourth quarter, when things weren’t going well, I thought we improved,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said. “I think it will just make us better once Luka comes back, but we don’t know when that is.  So we got to play with the guys that we have. We are putting ourselves in a position to win games; it’s just that we can’t get a stop at the right time or make an open three. That will, hopefully, happen sooner rather than later.”

A team rarely gets to see what it has in itself without the engine that drives the operation. In Dallas’ three games without Doncic, the glaringly obvious observation is that the team lacks the offensive firepower to hang with the good teams in the league. That was to be expected.

Yet, it hasn’t been all negative for Dallas. Amidst the losing and the fourth quarter difficulties, Porzingis and Jalen Brunson have stepped up to the plate and performed admirably without Dallas’ lead wonder-guard.

Kristaps Porzingis’ blossoming offensive role

One thing present since Doncic’s departure is that Porzingis feels comfortable being the linchpin within the offense on a given night.

He is averaging 23 points, 3.7 assists, 9.3 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game in the last three contests. He’s doing so on 50 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent from behind the 3-point line.

No doubt, playing with Doncic makes things easier for Porzingis, however, he’s held his own and found comfort being the go-to guy down the stretch in these games.

“KP is comfortable where he is at right now,” Kidd said. “We are playing through him early and often, and he’s stepped up late in the game … That’s what you want late-game when the game is close, your star player stepping up, and KP did a great job of that.”

From Porzingis’ vantage point, the growth in his offensive role was almost expected. He has confidence in himself and his abilities as a primary offensive option and post-up threat. And though it came in a loss, Porzingis receiving offensive touches as the game hung in the balance provided a drastic contrast to the last time he played the Clippers in Staples Center.

Last season, he functioned primarily as a floor spacer. Now, with no Doncic, he is the first option. It’s safe to say, he has enjoyed the increased opportunities within Kidd’s offense.

“What a contrast,” Porzingis said of the change from last season against the Clippers to now. “I am being effective, not only scoring but also getting my teammates involved.

“With each game, I am feeling more and more comfortable. My teammates are finding me, and I am trying to take advantage of it.”

Jalen Brunson’s offensive flurry

Porzingis hasn’t been alone in his rise to the occasion with no Doncic. Brunson’s three-game stretch comes as no surprise either.

He is averaging 18.7 points and 9 assists per game. To add, he’s shooting the ball at a 45 percent clip from the field and 33 percent from 3-point range.

Throughout 16 games, Brunson has often been the model of consistency for everyone not named Doncic. In Doncic’s absence, Brunson is sticking to what he does best: mid-range shots, attacking the basket and finding ways to get his teammates involved.

What does it all mean for Dallas? 

Though Dallas still needs a secondary quick-twitch offensive creator, Brunson’s offensive production highlights that Dallas isn’t as far off as many assume it to be. In the three losses, with Brunson and Porzingis as the primary creators, Dallas played Phoenix close twice and lost to the Clippers on a disputed offensive foul call.

“I thought I didn’t touch him,” Brunson said of the offensive foul call on him late in Sunday’s game. “It would have put us in a one-possession game or kept us at a two-possession game with the turnover. It was a big call.”

If anything, how these games ended showcases how good Dallas can be if Porzingis and Brunson continue this level of play when Doncic returns from injury. It is only then that Dallas will be a real threat in the wide-open Western Conference. That doesn’t start with Doncic, because he is always going to bring it; it starts with Porzingis and trickles down to everyone else.

“I haven’t felt like this for a while,” Porzingis said of his play. “Last time that I can remember is probably New York. So, I am still getting into a rhythm and seeing how to play without thinking. I am getting there. I am not there yet, 100 percent. But once I get there, that’s when I am going to feel comfortable in every situation, see everything, and take my time on every shot. Everything will just fine-tune, and that is when I will be even more effective.”

Related Dallas Mavericks reading: 

“Two reasons why the Mavericks can’t get over the hump on the road.” 

Feature image via  Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports.