The Dallas Mavericks were rank outsiders ahead of Monday’s meeting with the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum. Luka Doncic‘s injury meant the Bucks were expected to make it 19 wins on the bounce and do it easily. Despite another otherworldly outing from Giannis Antetokounmpo, it didn’t work out that way.
Dallas led the league in offence (and they still do), but that wasn’t meant to mean much with Doncic out. Kristaps Porzingis, who had been on a dire run, had to step up for the Mavericks to have any chance at victory. He did that, and he did it in a big way, scoring 26 points and hitting four threes, a couple of which were from a long way beyond the arc.
Porzingis has been shooting poorly, and been on a slump that had lasted more than a fortnight. With Doncic out, it was an opportunity to reassert himself as an All-Star. He has been playing like a roleplayer rather than the elite, three-point shooting superstar we saw in New York.
Even after hitting four of eight from downtown on Monday, Porzingis is below 34% from three this season. In 2017/18, he was a shade under 40%. His scoring is over five points lower, too. It’s not a judgement on him as a player, as a year of recovery was always probable, but it hampers the Mavericks. If he can get close to his All-Star self, and keep at that level once Doncic returns from this ankle injury, Dallas have the potential to go deep in the Western Conference playoffs.
The Latvian was +20 on Monday in a four-point win. Antetokounmpo was dragged to the perimeter, and even he couldn’t do anything when the 7’3 Porzingis jacked up for a three. It’s one way of avoiding the Greek Freak’s interior defence, though not a method that many players have the luxury of utilising. Porzingis collected a brace of blocks, too, including the crucial game-ender on Sterling Brown.
To call a 26-point outing in December a definitive night would be absurd. Given the circumstances, though, this could be the game Porzingis and the Mavericks look back on as a turning point. Beating the Bucks in Milwaukee without Doncic, with Porzingis playing brilliantly at both ends: that’s something to get excited about.