Luka Doncic picked off a pass from Jaren Jackson Jr. and scored a fastbreak layup with eight minutes left in the game.
After the score, he stood and smiled — almost laughing. And he had a real reason to. He has a running bet with Dorian Finney-Smith on who will finish with more dunks. Doncic tried to dunk the ball but jumped off the wrong foot. The result was a layup that didn’t look nearly as pretty as a dunk would have been.
“They just laughed,” Doncic said of his teammates after his layup attempt. “I wish [I would have dunked].”
Yet, the reasoning for Doncic’s symbolic celebration didn’t end there.
Doncic could also smile because his Mavericks were well on their way to beating Memphis for the third time this season, winning with defense, claiming the season series, inching up the crowded Western Conference standings, and beating Ja Morant.
A budding rivalry?
The result in this season series finale on Sunday night: 104-91. It was the second blowout of the Grizzlies this month, with both Morant and Doncic in uniform.
“I play every game to win,” Doncic said of playing harder when Morant comes to town. “Sometimes you are going to play better. Sometimes you’re going to play worse. He’s an amazing player.”
Morant was no slouch. He scored 35 points to Doncic’s 37.
“We know Ja and him [Doncic] are the focal point, and they showed up tonight and put on a show,” Jason Kidd said.
On the bubbling rivalry between the stars, Finney-Smith alluded to not paying too much attention to the Morant and Doncic debate.
“Ah, we pay it no mind,” Finney-Smith, who scored nine points, said. “When Luka scores, we look good. When Ja scores, we look bad.”
So, amidst the swirling debates of who means more to their respective teams, Doncic and his teammates downplay any existence of a rivalry. It’s a game just like any other. And rivalry or not, Dallas now owns the tie-breaker over Memphis in winning the seasons series 3-1.
“This is big,” Kidd said. “We are chasing them, and they are ahead in the standings. We win the season series, and it was also a bounce-back win, and that’s something for this group.”
The truth about Dallas
Dallas sits at 27-20. Memphis holds a 32-17 record. Three of Memphis’ losses came by way of Dallas.
The gap between the regular season and post-season basketball is large. However, it isn’t far-fetched to believe that Dallas might have Memphis’ number. Morant went off. Dallas still held Memphis to under 100 points.
Outside of Doncic, not many hurt Dallas offensively. The same can’t be said for Memphis. Kristaps Porzingis, who fouled out, pitched in with 15 points and six blocks. Jalen Brunson scored 13 points and got to the free-throw line seemingly at will.
The same can be said for the rest of the league as well. In the last 13 games, Dallas is the winner of 11. In the five-game home-stand Dallas just wrapped up, it went 4-1.
Though Phoenix didn’t go Dallas’ way, the bounce-back win on Sunday night proves this team belongs in elite company.
“You protect home, now you got to go out on the road against Golden State and Portland and find a way to win,” Kidd said. “We are learning how to protect home and not lose two in a row. There is a lot of positive things in that locker room.”
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Feature image via Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports.