Hours before the Dallas Mavericks' matchup with the Detroit Pistons on Monday night, it was still unclear if Luka Doncic was going to suit up due to a sprained ankle that had kept him on the sidelines for the past four days. By the end of the night, no one would have had any idea he was operating at less than 100 percent.
Doncic was spectacular yet again, pouring in 53 points on 17-of-24 from the field while adding eight rebounds and five assists in the Mavericks' 111-105 win over the Pistons. This was the second-highest-scoring game of Doncic's career and his fifth career 50-point game. Over the past 50 years, only Michael Jordan (17) and LeBron James (five) have had as many 50-point outings in their first five seasons.
There were no signs of rust from Doncic, who got off to a terrific start with 24 points in the first quarter alone. By the time Saddiq Bey scored the Pistons' first basket after two minutes and 59 seconds, Doncic had already put eight points on the board.
"Just being aggressive," Doncic said. "I was aggressive the whole game. Sometimes they doubled, sometimes they didn't. I was just aggressive."
Doncic also claimed he got some motivation from the Pistons' coaching staff. "Their assistant coaches tried to chirp me in the first quarter," Doncic said. "They didn't like when I chirped back, and they said, 'Play basketball.' If they're gonna chirp at me, I'm gonna chrip back. I ain't scared."
Whatever the reasoning, Doncic was unstoppable. He was in full control the whole game, getting wherever he wanted on the floor against a poor Pistons defense. He shot 9-of-10 in the paint, knocked down five 3-pointers, and made his way to the line for a whopping 18 free throws. When the Pistons did try to force the ball out of his hands, he was a willing passer and finished with five assists and even more hockey assists. All told, he either scored or assisted on 65 of the Mavericks' 111 points -- 58.5 percent.
But as awesome as Doncic was on Monday, this performance was also a reminder of his lack of support. Christian Wood's absence due to a fractured wrist was obviously part of the problem, but even so the Mavericks do not have enough reliable scoring around Doncic, as this game proved again. They have players who can have big nights such as Spencer Dinwiddie and Tim Hardaway Jr., but those same guys are also liable to disappear like they did against the Pistons. Dinwiddie was the only other player in double figures, but he needed 16 shots to get to 12 points; for the game, Mavericks not named Doncic shot 22-of-55 from the field.
To that point it will be interesting to see what the Mavericks do at the trade deadline. A report from ESPN earlier this month indicated that Doncic, though usually reluctant to get involved in personnel decisions, has made it clear that he'd like the front office to upgrade the roster.
The Mavericks will continue to go as far as Doncic can carry them. Which, as he's shown time and again, is quite a long way. As for his ankle, Doncic said it's trending in the right direction. "It's good," Doncic said. "Still far from 100 percent, but we're getting there."