Mavericks 112, Rockets 106: Luka Doncic shuts down Houston's comeback bid

Mavericks 112, Rockets 106: Luka Doncic shuts down Houston's comeback bid

Updated: 2 months, 27 days, 13 hours, 53 minutes, 20 seconds ago

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The Rockets finally got the ball out of Luka Doncic’s hands. They double-teamed. After he hit them with a few buckets anyway, he set up teammates for open shots, and the Rockets closed to within one shot.

They never quite got the bucket to finish the comeback, until Doncic rose up one more time, as if he was teasing them all along, letting them think they could slow the onslaught.

When Doncic nailed his 3-pointer with 18.6 seconds left, the Mavericks had a finally safe five-point lead and Doncic had 50 points, his season high and the most scored by a Rockets opponent this season.

Doncic made 17 of 30 shots to come within one point of his career high, adding 10 assists and eight rebounds.

Jabari Smith Jr. led the Rockets with 24 points and 10 rebounds while Jalen Green had 23 points and Alperen Sengun added 19 points with a season-high seven assists. But after beating the Mavericks when they were without Doncic, the Rockets could not top all the points he saved for them when he sat out that night in Dallas.

The Rockets had erased a 16-point Dallas lead and gone up by three. But when Doncic got on another roll, the Mavericks led by eight with five minutes left and seemed on the way to pulling away again.

The Rockets, however, rallied again. Sengun scored inside. Smith nailed a 3-pointer. The Rockets came out of a timeout to have Smith set up Sengun for a slam, and the Rockets were within 105-104 with 3:11 left.

They were by then double-teaming Doncic, including on his last few field goals to give him 47 points with five minutes left. That paid off with a few of the looks left open by the double-teams missing. But Davis Bertans swished a corner 3 with 2:57 remaining and Sengun twice missed at the rim.

Still, the Rockets got the stops they needed. When Smith hit a pullup jumper with 1:34 left, the Rockets were within two. They seemed for a moment to have tied the game on a Sengun slam. That was taken away by a charging foul on Kevin Porter Jr. on the pass.

The Rockets got another chance, again turning the ball over trying to get the ball to Sengun.

This time, Doncic ended their chances, nailing his sixth 3-pointer with 18.6 seconds left.

Smith missed a 3-pointer and when the Rockets had to foul, Tim Hardaway Jr. clinched the win at the line.

Sweet 16?

Many might have been stunned to see the Rockets come back from a 16-point deficit to a three-point lead. The Rockets might have surprised themselves a bit.

It also could have looked familiar.

The Rockets' biggest comebacks to win this season were against the Hawks and Suns, teams with firepower and star power similar to the Mavericks.

The largest deficits in those games was 16 Nov. 15 against Atlanta and 16 Dec. 2 in Phoenix.

This time, they fell short, closing to within one but not getting the final stops to steal the win.

Luka magic

When asked on Thursday if there was anything the Rockets could take from their win in Dallas this season, Rockets coach Stephen Silas looked chagrined when he had to say there was nothing that worked that game that could apply to the rematch.

That game was played without Doncic. Friday’s game had him all over the game, doing as he pleased.

With 5:36 remaining, Doncic put a drive between his legs on the way toward the basket, giving him 43 points to foil the Rockets' switch to a double-team. A possession later, he nailed a 3-pointer, giving him 47, a season high and four shy of his career high with five minutes still to play.

Double vision

When Rockets forward K.J. Martin, who got the start with Eric Gordon out, sank a 3-pointer with 7:27 left in the third quarter, every Rockets starter was in double figures.

It became the 11th time this season that every Rockets starter scored at least 10 points, including the two games against Dallas. The Rockets got there 13 times all of last season.

But the balanced scoring among the Rockets starters did not just provide a fun stat. It was a key to keeping the Rockets in the game.

The Mavericks did not get a second player in double figures until 6:24 was left in the game when Spencer Dinwiddie hit a 3-pointer, giving him 11 points and the Mavericks a six-point lead.

The Rockets' balanced scoring along with Green’s 13 third-quarter points, helped turn things around, with the Rockets outscoring the Mavericks 34-20 in the quarter as the Mavericks other than Doncic made 2 of 11 shots.

A little help?

Rockets guard Daishen Nix knocked down a corner 3 with 3 ½ minutes left in the first quarter and celebrated with an odd sort of wave toward the Rockets bench as they jumped up to mark the occasion. The Rockets led 23-19. They had made 11 of 18 shots. The starters were playing well.

Seven minutes after the Nix 3, the Rockets scored seven points. They had begun to go to their bench midway through the first quarter, a few possessions earlier than usual perhaps when Porter picked up his third foul (though that substitution could have been to have Porter return when Gordon, who was out, usually does).

The Rockets reserves gave the Rockets almost nothing.

Nix’s 3-pointer was the only Rockets field goal off the bench in the first half. With the Mavericks playing without four regulars (Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Kemba Walker and Josh Green), the Dallas second unit outscored the Rockets bench 20-5 in the first half.

The Rockets bench averages 33.3 points per game, with a season-low of 16. Some of that firepower was in the starting lineup with Martin starting in Gordon’s spot. But the Rockets were not even getting the usual hustle plays, with 50/50 balls treated as if trying to win a lottery.

The Rockets were so desperate for help that four minutes into the second quarter, Silas had played 12 players with Boban Marjanovic and Darius Days the only players in uniform that had not played.

The way things were going, it looked like a matter of time.

Change in the works

In the first half, Silas played nearly everyone. Late in the half and again in the second half, he seemed to have made a choice.

Late in the second quarter, when he wanted to sit Porter with three fouls, Silas went with TyTy Washington Jr. In the third quarter, when Porter sat, Washington again got the call.