Luka Doncic was happy to be back on the floor for the Dallas Mavericks.
His teammates were surely just as happy — if not more.
Doncic will play in his second contest after missing four due to an ankle injury when the Mavericks visit the suddenly hot Golden State Warriors on Saturday night.
The 20-year-old didn’t look the least bit rusty in his return on Thursday as he contributed 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in a 102-98 home win over the San Antonio Spurs.
But it wasn’t as easy as Doncic made it look.
“I’m not going to lie. I was pretty tired going to the end of the game,” Doncic said afterward. “It’s difficult when you’re out like four or five games. You’ve got to catch up, and it’s going to get better.”
But a tired Doncic certainly beats playing without Doncic. The Mavericks split their four games without the star point guard.
“We were missing him,” post player Maxi Kleber told reporters. “He’s an exceptional player — one of the best out there.
“So everybody’s just happy he’s finally back. We couldn’t wait, he couldn’t wait. It looks like he needed an extra wind, but he’s going to get into shape. It’s tough when you’ve been out for a while.”
Doncic played 33 minutes against the Spurs — he averages 32.2, the same amount he did as a rookie — but Dallas coach Rick Carlisle saw the effects on a couple occasions.
“Any time you’re out for that amount of time and you have been a regular player playing 33 to 34 minutes, when you first come back it is going to hit you pretty quick with wind,” Carlisle told reporters. “But as the game went on, he felt pretty good in the third quarter.
The Mavericks are a solid 20-10 entering the game against Golden State. That rates as heavy improvement as the squad won 33 or fewer games in each of the past three seasons.
Doncic is the prime reason for the upward rise. He is averaging 29.1 points, 9.6 rebounds and 8.8 assists and has posted eight triple-doubles.
One of the triple-doubles came when Doncic registered 35 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds as Dallas annihilated visiting Golden State 142-94 on Nov. 20.
It is a different band of Warriors showing up for the rematch. Golden State has won a season-best four straight games, and it outscored the Phoenix Suns 39-18 in the fourth quarter on Friday to rally for a 105-96 victory.
“We have a little momentum and our guys are feeling it,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the triumph. “This is a game we wouldn’t have won a month ago. But they stayed with it.
“This is the kind of game where you have to be resilient to win when things aren’t going your way. You stay with it, you stay solid. We only had 11 turnovers.”
Not only was Golden State skimpy in making mistakes, it forced the Suns into 27 turnovers.
The Warriors trailed by 10 with under nine minutes remaining and went ahead to stay on a putback dunk by forward Glenn Robinson III with 4:14 left.
Shooting guard D’Angelo Russell scored 31 points, but he was passing credit to all his teammates, saying it was a solid team win.
“We’re growing,” Russell said during a postgame television interview. “Every game we’re growing and figuring out ways to limit our mistakes at the end of the game and executing down the stretch and coming in with a game plan and executing. We’re growing. That’s it. Simple as that.”
Veteran power forward Draymond Green had similar thoughts to Kerr. As in Golden State wouldn’t have even been able to stay in the game earlier this season.
“We’re getting better as a team,” Green told reporters. “A month ago we would have lost this game by 40 with the way we were playing in the first half. We were able to stick around. When you stick around the way we did, eventually shots will fall.”
The feel-good win prompted Kerr to joke around about the club’s sudden dominance.
“You can’t stop us. You can only hope to contain us,” Kerr said.
The Warriors have lost the last two games against Dallas after winning 19 of the previous 21 meetings.
–Field Level Media