Dallas Mavericks

With Slovenian compatriots on hand, Mavericks ‘superhero’ leads heroic comeback

Over 100 Slovenian natives traveled to Dallas to watch Luka Doncic play

Over 100 Slovenians traveled to Texas to watch Luka Doncic play on Sunday.
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Over 100 Slovenians traveled to Texas to watch Luka Doncic play on Sunday.

It was Superhero Day at American Airlines Center for the Dallas Mavericks Sunday afternoon game with the Portland Trail Blazers

And for the Mavericks at this moment in 2019, there is nothing closer to a real superhero than rookie Luka Doncic.

The native of Slovenia even had almost 100 of his compatriots in town from Slovenia for the occasion. They came waving Slovenia flags, wearing Mavs shirts and jerseys, and carrying signs of support for Doncic and the Mavs. They couldn’t have picked a better game as Doncic led a furious fourth-quarter comeback for a thrilling 102-101 win in truly heroic fashion.

Doncic finished the fourth with a flurry, scoring 13 points during a 21-3 run late in the game to secure the win and overcome a 15-point deficit. It’s the first time this season Portland has lost when they led after three quarters. They were 33-0 and led by 14 when the fourth quarter s

Fans hold up Slovenian flags as they cheer after Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic scored a basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers in Dallas, Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Tony Gutierrez AP Photo


But Doncic rallied the Mavs and finished with 28 points, nine rebounds and six assists. During a 14-0 Mavs run, Doncic connected with Dwight Powell for a pretty one-handed alley-oop. Doncic hit a 3 and Tim Hardaway Jr. chased down a loose ball and drove it in for a dunk to pull the Mavs to within one with 4:17 remaining.

“I don’t normally play [Doncic] the whole quarter but when we began to make the push early in the fourth it was just one of those times where he was going to have to finish for us to have a chance,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “I thought Hardaway Jr. had his best game. He is starting to feel his way here and how he is going to fit in. He was aggressive, smart, and he hit big buckets all night long.”

Dallas tied it at 97-97 with 3:12 remaining on Hardaway’s two free throws and then took their first lead since early in the second quarter on a dazzling finger roll layup by Doncic after he dribbled around the half court for 15 seconds. After the Blazers tied it, Doncic drove in again for a physical, go-ahead layup and a foul with 1:28 left. He hit the free throw to put the Mavs up for good, 102-99.

“He’s a good player and he’s unafraid,” Carlisle said. “And he knows how to finish. He knows how to finish games.”

In the the third quarter, Damian Lillard put on a legitimate heroic stretch of his own. He was 8 of 8 for 21 points, including 16 in a row for the Blazers, who built a 92-78 lead by the end of the third quarter. He finished with 30 points, but only had two in the fourth. In fact, the Blazers were held to a season-low nine points in the final quarter.

“Our team showed great resilience today,” said Hardaway, who scored 24 points on 50 percent shooting. “I’m pretty sure tomorrow we’re going to see that as well [against the Rockets]. There’s going to be a point in the game where they’re going to run off four or five straight 3s. You’ve just got to stay poised, keep playing the way we’re playing and being aggressive.”

Much of the Slovenian group will bus down to Houston for Monday’s game and will be back in Dallas for Wednesday’s game against the Miami Heat.

“It’s a special feeling. Everybody from my hometown is pretty far away, so when they come to see me and support me, it is very special,” Doncic said.

Of course, they’re hoping for more Doncic heroics.

And that’s just fine with Carlisle.

“Something that’s important to understand right now is Luka has an amazing amount of responsibility on this team,” he said. “He has to make good decisions, he’s got to score and he’s got to get guys shot. And he has to guard people and rebound.”

And since the Mavs traded away four starters last week, even more of the burden has fallen on the 19-year-old’s shoulder, Carlisle said.

“This is a really important 27-game stretch for him to feel what this is all about. And be able to learn what it feels like to have to deliver in all these different areas,” he said. “He’s certainly capable of doing it.

“Our job is to keep his trajectory consistently moving upward,” Carlisle later added. “And to make sure he understands the load and to carry the load. And I think he can. I have no doubt he can.”

Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle has no doubt Luka Doncic can "carry the load" of responsibility placed on him as a young up-and-coming player in the NBA.

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Stefan Stevenson has been covering sports for the Star-Telegram since 1997. He spent five years covering TCU athletics, which included two BCS bowls, two trips to the college World Series and the move to the Big 12. He has covered the Texas Rangers since 2014 and started reporting on the Dallas Cowboys in 2016.