It was that type of game for Luka Dončić.
Memphis Grizzlies big man Brandon Clarke got a clean pocket pass off a semi-screen, with Josh Green tagging behind off the pick-n-roll. Maxi Kleber was caught between staying on his man or helping in rotation. This left the paint open with no rim protection. Clarke had a good look at the rim but he was met by Dončić who ran to the rim and perfectly timed his jump to vertically block Clarke’s shot. This was in the third quarter with the Mavs up 96-67.
On the next possession, Dončić led the fast break with a swift behind-the-back dribble to avoid a defender, and threw an alley-oop to a trailing Wood for a demonstrative dunk. It’s the type of the sequence that has shown Dončić’s growth on the defensive end, that helps create plays for their offense.
“I think in the two games — it’s only been two — I think he’s gotten off to a good start both in Phoenix and here. Again, being able to find the open guys, I think he’s mixed up the 3s with the paint touches and getting to the rim and then being able to play make and find the open guys. He’s playing the game at a different level right now, kind of like where he was last season before it ended, playing at an extremely high level for us,” head coach Jason Kidd said.
Their blowout win against Memphis 137-96, started early led by Dončić who found his shooting touch early, scored the Mavs first nine points in the first quarter, and finished with 21 points, more than the Grizzlies total, 17, in the quarter. Dončić finished the game with a game high 32 points, seven assists, 10 rebounds, and 52 FG percent in three quarters.
Back in the first quarter Dončić did a little bit of everything. He twirled and spun to create enough space to hit a step back 25-feet 3-pointer on the left wing. On the next play, he grabbed the rebound and threw a full court assist to a cutting Reggie Bullock for a layup. The next possession, he, alongside with Dorian Finney-Smith, trapped Ja Morant out of a trap that forced Morant with the ball in the air that was called for a travel.
“I thought his defense was incredible tonight. One of the best defensive performances I saw. He’ll tell you, too, because he had blocked shots and steals. Make sure you ask him,” Kidd said.
Coming into the game, Memphis superstar Ja Morant, leading the NBA with 41.5 points. He torched the Houston Rockets the previous night with 49 points in 31 minutes, eight assists, and made 65 percent of his shots. Dallas’ stingy defense led by Finney-Smith held Morant to 20 points, eight of which came from the free throw, and was -31 in the plus/minus category. Memphis success hinges on transition points and crashing the boards. They had 18 fast break points and 44 rebounds, but only made 9-of-33 3-pointers, and struggled to find their rhythm against Mavericks
Dallas, coming off a 22-point comeback loss to the Suns, looked fresher, more focused in their home opener against the Grizzlies. They got off to a similar hot start as they did against the Suns. In their loss against the Suns, they were outscored by 62 points in the second half. It was a different story against the Grizzlies in which the Mavericks continued their offensive prowess and staunch defense that ballooned their lead and Kidd didn’t need his starters for the fourth quarter.
Beyond Dončić’s brilliant playmaking, jaw dropping stepback 3-pointers, triple-doubles on any given night, his early season commitment on the defensive end is something the Mavericks are hoping they can build for the playoffs.
“I think it was good. Like I said before the season I’ve got to improve that. I think today was great, but it’s just one game so I’ve got to continue to do that,” Dončić said.
Dončić wasn’t alone in his offensive showcase. Wood, for the straight second game, looked like the Mavs second best player and best big man complimentary to Dončić skillset. Wood finished the game with 25 points, 12 rebounds, and 12-of-14 from free throw. His instant chemistry with Dončić, and decisiveness with the ball at the top of the post, give something the Mavericks haven’t had in the Dončić era. He’s taken advantage against opposing teams second unit by utilizing post-rip throughs, making the correct passes off switch defense, and shooting threes against drop coverages.