SI:AM | Luka Dončić Out-Duels SGA As Mavs Push Thunder to the Brink

Even with a litany of injuries, Luka came through to lead Dallas to victory.
Dončić (77) was back to playing like his usual self in Game 5.
Dončić (77) was back to playing like his usual self in Game 5. / Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I can’t believe how many streaming services you’ll have to have to watch the NFL next season.

In today’s SI:AM:

🤠 Mavs win on the road
📅 The full NFL schedule
🏀 Bronny impresses at the combine

Trouble for the West’s No. 1

Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Dončić is so banged up that a graphic from Wednesday’s Game 5 against the Oklahoma City Thunder listing his various ailments became a meme. He’s currently dealing with a sprained right knee, a sore left knee, a sore back and a sore left Achilles tendon. TNT’s Jared Greenberg reported that if it wasn’t the playoffs, Dončić would be sidelined for about two weeks.

And Dončić certainly looked like he was feeling the effects of the various injuries in the first four games of the series, shooting just 39% from the field and 31% from three. He had an especially rough night in Game 4, hitting just six of his 20 shots and turning the ball over seven times (although he still notched a triple double). The lowlight that night was when he missed a clutch free throw that could have tied the game with 10 seconds left.

But Dončić put all that behind him in Game 5, scoring 31 points on 12-of-22 shooting and adding 11 assists and 10 rebounds to record the third 30-point triple double of his playoff career. The Mavs won the game to take a 3–2 series lead and can close it out with a win at home Saturday.

So what was different for Dončić on Wednesday? Well, for one thing, he made a conscious effort to not complain as much to the referees.

“I just tried to play basketball,” Dončić told Greenberg on the court after the game. “Just focus on basketball. Sometimes I forget this is the thing I love, this is the thing I do. My mental focus was to just go out there and play basketball with a smile on my face and just go.”

Dončić led the way offensively, but a major reason why the Mavs are in a position to advance to the conference finals is that their defense has done a great job stifling the potent OKC offense. The Thunder were third in the NBA this season in scoring, averaging 120.1 points per game. The 92 points they scored in Game 5 were the fewest they scored in a game this season. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had another strong showing scoring 30 points on 12-of-22 shooting, but the rest of his teammates struggled to knock down shots. The other nine players who saw action for OKC shot a combined 38.5% from the floor. The Thunder also got bullied on the boards, losing the rebound battle 46–33.

The Thunder are an excellent team who should be a contender in the West for years to come but the Mavericks are the more experienced playoff team and have played like it in this series. This OKC team has never faced a situation as dire as the one they’ll be in Saturday, staring down a must-win game on the road. Do they have what it takes to keep their season alive?

Dec 28, 2023; Cleveland, Ohio, USA;  Jets’ Aaron Rodgers looks on from the sidelines.
The NFL is gambling on the Jets in primetime once again. / Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The best of Sports Illustrated

The top five…

… things I saw last night:

5. The raccoon delay at the NYCFC-Union game.
4. Derrick Jones Jr.’s block and ensuing dunk.
3. Artturi Lehkonen’s buzzer-beating goal to tie the game at the end of the first period.
2. The Chargers’ schedule release video—specifically the joke they made about Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker, who made some idiotic comments in a graduation speech over the weekend.
1. Aaron Judge’s 467-foot home run into the third deck. He added three doubles to go 4-for-4.


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Dan Gartland

DAN GARTLAND

Dan Gartland is the writer and editor of Sports Illustrated’s flagship daily newsletter, SI:AM, covering everything an educated sports fan needs to know. Previously published on Deadspin and Slate, Dan also is a former Sports Jeopardy! champion (Season 1, Episode 5).