DALLAS – Luka Doncic downplayed the performances that started with Utah Jazz backup center Hassan Whiteside’s hard mistakes on him as “nothing” but typical playoff excitement, but the Dallas Mavericks ‘superstar appreciated his teammates’ urgency to protect him.
The incident took place on Doncic’s dunk attempt with 5:33 left in Mavs’ 102-77 victory in Monday’s central match 5.
After Doncic crashed to the floor, Whiteside stood over him. Dallas strikers Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock ran toward the baseline to confront the 7-foot, 265-pound center and exchanged pushes with him. Referees and coaches and security officials from both teams rushed into the match to ensure the situation did not escalate.
“They had my back,” said Doncic, who had 33 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in the win. “Both of them, anyone, we had each other’s backs. That’s what great teams do. I would take these guys to war. This is a special team.”
Whiteside was called for two technical errors and expelled. Bullock, who had been rated as his first technical in a Mavericks uniform earlier in the match, was whistled for another technical and was also ousted. Finney-Smith was also called to a technical.
“I ran right over there and tried to protect my teammate,” said Finney-Smith, whose defensive jazz star Donovan Mitchell (9 points, 4-of-15 shots, 4 turnovers) credited for his matches. “It’s playoff basketball. It was a tough mistake … We know they will try to hit Luka. They have also tried to hit [Jalen Brunson]also lately. We just have to protect ourselves, protect each other and win battles. “
Doncic, who said he would offer to pay the fines for his teammates’ technical mistakes, said he felt “much better” in his second fight back after a strained calf that put him on the sidelines for 13 days. He was particularly dominant in the third quarter, with Doncic having 19 points, matching the Jazz’s total for the quarter.
“The first game I was a little stiff – I use that word a lot,” said Doncic, who had 30 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists in Mavs’ game 4 on the road. “But I felt better today. I think the first few minutes I was tired, but then I was okay. I think the run in the third was also a little tired, but I just got the air back “I’ve got to hydrate for Utah now, the hill.”
Dallas has a chance to close out the series in Thursday’s game 6 in Salt Lake City. It would be the first time the Mavs have advanced past the first round since Dallas’ 2011 championship race. Dallas has won eight out of nine series in franchise history as it had a 3-2 lead, with the exception of last season against the LA Clippers.
“Just play the same way we played today,” Doncic said. “I think our defense was great, the energy was high and we played hard. That’s the way we have to play and that’s how we win the next game.”