The first reviews of the Luka Doncic/Kristaps Porzingis Era are in. And as far as Dallas Mavericks fans are concerned, the team’s two cornerstones should get two thumbs up in a performance fit for a king in their inaugural game on the court together.
Doncic tallied 34 points and grabbed nine rebounds, and Porzingis added 23 as the Mavs built a 23-point lead, then held on to defeat the Washington Wizards, 108-100, Wednesday night in the regular season opener at American Airlines Center. It was the first time the Mavs, who play at New Orleans on Friday, won their home opener since 2016.
More importantly, the Doncic-Porzingis combination proved as lethal as advertised. Particularly since, after missing his first four shots, Porzingis converted seven of his final 12 shots, culminating it with a high-flying thunderous dunk off a feed from Jalen Brunson that put Dallas ahead by nine with just 52.1 seconds left..
“I wanted to stay aggressive,” said Porzingis, who played 29 minutes in his first regular season game in over 20 months. “I still want to get to the rim more.
“But I got fouled early, got to the free throw line, made some free throws, and got myself in a little bit of rhythm. It’s not a sprint – it’s a marathon – and I know what I’m capable of going forward.”
The same can be said of Doncic, who shook off a few physical chippy incidents with Bradley Beal late in the game and finished with 12 field goals made in 19 attempts.
“It was a great game,” said Doncic, who was 4-of-9 from 3-point range. “They’re a physical team, and I’m glad we got a win.”
Beal tried to rattle Doncic with some overly aggressive play in the fourth quarter, and both players eventually received a technical foul with 1:09 remaining in the game. Moments later, Beal then said something else that infuriated the officials and subsequently received a second technical foul and the automatic ejection from the game.
“That’s basketball,” Doncic said. “You don’t have any friends on the court. I respect him.”
Coach Rick Carlisle respected how Doncic stood his ground and handled the situation against one of the game’s best players.
“This is what great players do,” Carlisle said. “There have been instances when Luka has asked to guard the best player.
“There’s a small group of great players in the NBA and you saw two of them tonight. It became a personal battle out there, and we all know there can be some pitfalls with that. But in the end, we got the win and the important thing is that we got the win.”
The Mavs got the win in large part because Doncic and Porzingis were unstoppable.
“For almost a year-and-half he was out, and he played amazing for being that much time off,” Doncic said of Porzingis. “I know he’s going to be even better.”
That sentiment was shared by Porzingis, who was playing his first regular season game since undergoing surgery on Feb. 13, 2018 to repair his torn left anterior cruciate ligament.
“It was a long time that I was out,” Porzingis said. “To be back out there on the floor felt really good, and I was just excited to be out there and get the season going.
“I think Luka had a really good game, but I think the rest of us as a team can get much better than this. We have huge room to grow.”
After falling behind, 17-10, midway through the first quarter, the Mavs used a 23-6 rally to go up 44-31 midway through the second quarter and seize control of the game. With Doncic dazzling for 15 points in the second quarter alone, the Mavs assumed a comfortable 62-48 lead at intermission.
By that time, the sellout crowd of 19,816 were already chanting “MVP, MVP” in regards to Doncic, who was last year’s Rookie of the Year.
Carlisle sad: “Luka’s getting better every time he steps on the floor.”
Wizards coach Scott Brooks marveled at the prospects of what the Mavs can do with Porzingis and Doncic on the floor together.
“That’s a tough matchup right there, and they’re going to compete with all the great teams in the West,” Brooks said. “Those two guys give you a chance to win every night. Very skilled — high skilled.
“They need some time to play along with one another. But I think those two guys give you a chance every night.”
Dorian Finney-Smith (10 pints, eight rebounds) and Justin Jackson (10 points, 19 minutes) came off the bench to give the Mavs some adequate production.
“I thought Porzingis, after a slow start, hung in there and found his rhythm offensively,” Carlisle said. “We have a lot of guys that can score out there — some of them found their rhythm tonight, some didn’t.
“The ones that didn’t, we’ve got to move the ball in their direction and make sure everybody’s involved. But again, it’s a good win against a hard-playing team and it’s been awhile since we’ve won our opening game of the season, so we’ll take it.”