After record-breaking performances in his first two playoff games, it seemed like the only thing that could slow down Luka Doncic was not one player or one team full of veterans with star reputations, but the cruelty of unpredictable sports injury. Unfortunately for Dallas, that became the reality on Friday night.
Kawhi Leonard led the Clippers with 37 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists in a 130-122 win over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 3 of the best-of-seven match-up. Leonard's possessions showcased why he is one of the top 5 players in basketball, but the attention grabber for the night was when he drove at Doncic on the way to the basket with 4:05 left in the third quarter.
Leonard passed out of the drive for a three-point attempt that was missed and proceeded to get fouled after grabbing the rebound, sending him to the free throw line. That entire sequence of events happened as Doncic laid on the floor in unmistakable pain, waiting for a whistle to stop play after landing awkwardly.
Injuries are a huge part of the sports, and they can derail a season in an instant. The dynastic Golden State Warriors come to mind after most recently landing the 2nd overall pick in the NBA Draft after years of Finals appearances and championships due to an injury-riddled year from their top players.
Doncic, who had previously missed extended action in December and February this season, rolled his left ankle doing his best to stop the superstar on the other team from running away with the third ever playoff game of his young career.
The sight of Doncic wincing on the ground and unable to put pressure on his leg was a sobering moment for a fanbase that’s been feeling very optimistic lately. The cameras showed Doncic hobbling to the back area ahead of Mavs trainers trying to catch up to help.
“He went and got re-taped, and our trainer told me that he wants to give it a go” Carlisle told reporters after the game. "The answer’s going to be ‘yes, yeah, okay let’s go.’ ”
Doncic recorded 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists before leaving the game for good three minutes into the final quarter, making him the first player in franchise history to record a triple-double in the playoffs.
If Doncic can’t go for Game 4, Kristaps Porzingis looks to be more than capable of anchoring the offense.
Porzingis, who is no stranger to the trainer’s room himself, finished Game 3 with 34 points and 13 rebounds, becoming the first player to record 30+ points and 10+ rebounds in a playoff game for Dallas since Dirk Nowitzki (34 points, 11 rebounds) in Game 3 of the 2011 NBA Finals.
The Mavericks never held a lead after halftime, but the supporting cast upped its performance from the Game 2 victory that felt like a true team effort. Seth Curry came in to shoot off the bench, scoring a playoff career-high 22 points and 3 assists. Curry shot 9 of 11 from the floor and a perfect 4 for 4 from deep. Tim Hardaway Jr. also scored a playoff career-high 22 points to go with 6 rebounds and 2 assists.
The Mavericks were forced to see what life would be like without Luka at full strength in a playoff game and they didn’t crumble against a team that has been pulling out all the veteran bully tactics in the NBA postseason book to throw the young Mavs off their game.
The trial by fire for the rest of the team will be invaluable without their superstar but could prove dynamic if Doncic is able to suit up on Sunday. Doncic is averaging 27.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8.7 assists in his first playoff series.
Even with the lower than usual scoring output for Game 3, Doncic (21 years, 175 days) became the third-youngest player ever to record a triple-double in the playoffs after Earvin “Magic" Johnson and LeBron James.
The gut punch of losing Doncic for most of the second half of a critical game was frustrating but ultimately a better outcome than losing him for the series or – heaven forbid – a season, which would be akin to falling backwards on a fire hydrant.
Doncic is a game time decision, and the Clippers will be looking to test out that injured ankle even if he does play. Doncic has a tight turnaround to get back on the court, with a Sunday afternoon Game 4 tip-off looming on ABC.
After seeing Porzingis, Curry, and Hardaway Jr. all performing well and holding their own in his absence, however, the series continues to hold intrigue.
Do you think Luka and the Mavericks will be able to bounce back against L.A. in Game 4? Share your thoughts with Irvin on Twitter @Twittirv.