DALLAS — All Luka Doncic wanted to do after tonight was apologize to everyone in American Airlines Area for his eagle-eyed detection of a minuscule flaw that, eventually, caused the game to end well past midnight. The only people more sorry in the arena were the members of the Philadelphia 76ers, who allowed Luka to put up historic numbers in one of the strangest games in the NBA this season.
Doncic recorded his 44th career triple-double with 33 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists as the Dallas Mavericks overcame a 16-point deficit and a 44-minute delay to take down the Philadelphia 76ers 107-98 on Friday night. All five starters scored in double figures for the Mavericks as it rebounded from a two-game losing streak — both losses to bottom-feeding teams, Orlando and Oklahoma City — to defeat one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
Philadelphia opened up a 16-point lead in the second quarter — buoyed by Joel Embiid’s 18 points and nine rebounds in the first half — and still led by 10 at halftime before the Mavericks got back into the game by going into a zone defense to neutralize the Sixers’ inside dominance. The Mavericks outscored Philadelphia 32-15 in the third quarter, with Doncic’s 11 points, five rebounds and four assists in the stanza leading the charge and giving him a triple-double before the fourth quarter began.
After shooting almost 57 percent in the first half (22-for-39), the Sixers made only six of their 15 shots in the third quarter, with Embiid making only one field goal in 10 minutes on the court.
“The zone was big for us. It was effective there in the second half,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said. “We played a little bit in that first half and we came out to start the second half in it, and the biggest thing is rebounding out of a zone. [It] is something that you’re afraid of as a player or coach because you’re vulnerable and I thought the guys did a great job in the second half of keeping Embiid and those guys off the boards and making those guys one, miss, but finishing the play, so zone is big.”
Reggie Bullock, continuing to start in the backcourt in place of the injured Tim Hardaway Jr., chipped in with 20 points, including nailing a couple of three-pointers on back-to-back possessions to give the Mavericks the lead for good at 96-91 with 5:25 remaining. Jalen Brunson scored 19 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists.
Two of Doncic’s 33 points came on a three-pointer from the top of the key at the 6:15 mark of the first quarter, but after the shot went though the net, Doncic immediately hollered to the officials that the rim he just shot at was crooked. The rim was indeed judged to be crooked, and the initial attempt by arena staff to remedy the issue led to the backboard being tilted and, eventually, caused an extended delay as the basketball stanchion was removed and a spare one was wheeled onto the court and set up.
With the game starting at an odd 9:00 PM local time to accommodate for national television, an already long night soon became a marathon.
“I shot it and I realized it was like this,” Doncic said after the game. “I want to say sorry to the people that stayed so late. It was late and a long, long game.”
The delay did not cool off Sixers star Joel Embiid, who scored nine points in each of the first two quarters and also ended the half with nine rebounds. Philadelphia opened up a lead as much as 16 midway through the second quarter before settling for a 63-53 lead at halftime.
In that ill-fated third quarter, the Sixers made just one of five on three-pointers and made only one more number of field goals (six) than they had turnovers in the quarter.
“That’s really the reason why [Dallas] went into zone, because we don’t shoot enough and obviously because I was on the floor,” said Embiid, who finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds. “The times I wasn’t on the floor, they were playing man, but as soon as I got on the floor they went back to that zone. You can’t be gun shy. You have to fire it away and make a few and cause them to make some adjustments – and probably get out of it. But we did struggle tonight against that.”
Doncic put up a stat line of at least 30 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds for the eighth time in his young career, passing Magic Johnson and and Russell Westbrook for second on the all-time list in that category. Only Oscar Robertson, with 22 such games, is ahead of Doncic on that ledger.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Friday night’s game, with all photos taken by Dallas-area photographer Ross James. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 19 pictures in total.