Mavericks vs. Thunder score: Luka Doncic stops complaining, puts on a smile and

For all of Luka Doncic’s mesmerizing, spectacular, preternatural talent, there has been one infuriatingly glaring flaw in his game over the course of his six-year NBA career: The man just does not stop complaining.

Every shot, drive, dribble or pass is almost inevitably followed by a steely glare and/or choice words for whichever official he felt has wronged him this time. It occasionally makes Doncic — a wizard with the basketball who does things on a nightly basis that we may never see again in our entire lives — borderline unwatchable.

In the Dallas Mavericks’ 104-92 Game 5 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night, however, Doncic shut his mouth, put on a smile and set his team on a path that could soon lead back to the Western Conference finals. After going 6-for-20 from the field and scoring just 18 points in Dallas’ devastating Game 4 loss in OKC, Doncic came out calm, assured and decisive on Wednesday night, putting up 31 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds on 12-for-22 shooting. With the performance, he tied LeBron James for the second-most postseason 30-point triple-doubles by a player 25 or younger.

Even those gaudy stats don’t do justice to just how great Doncic was, and the best part was that it was accompanied by little to no complaining to officials, which he admitted was by design.

“I just tried to play basketball, just tried to focus on basketball,” Doncic said after the game. “Sometimes I forgot 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.”

It hearkened back to a comment Doncic made back in 2019 — a prescient one, given what’s transpired in the conference semifinals over five years later: “A lot of times when I don’t smile, when I’m not having fun playing the game, then I play bad. I think that’s a little bit of a secret for me.”

Playing “bad” is certainly a relative term for Doncic, but his numbers for the series entering Game 5 — 24 points per game on 42/35/68 shooting splits, were a far cry from the player we saw finish third in the MVP voting after his best regular season yet. That all changed on Wednesday, however, and you could tell what kind of night it was going to be after one early play.

Fewer than four minutes into the game, Doncic dribbled to his left, stopped on a dime and drew contact with Thunder wing Jalen Williams. As NBA players are prone to do, Doncic anticipated what he thought would be a foul call and threw up a wild, one-handed shot … which happened to go in.

When no call was made, everyone familiar with Doncic’s usual demeanor likely expected him to spin around, jump up and down, shout at any ref in sight and fail to get back on defense. Instead, Doncic threw up a slight shrug while jogging back, choosing to move on to the next play rather than dwell on a presumed missed call.

There were many more plays like this throughout the night, where Doncic’s knee-jerk reaction in the past has been to pout and complain. His restraint during Game 5 trickled down to his teammates, who played with the poise and confidence that has prevented them from losing consecutive games so far this postseason. In fact, the most Doncic yelled all night was at his own coaching staff, when he successfully lobbied them to challenge a foul call in the fourth quarter.

Basketball-wise, Doncic was nearly perfect. It wasn’t just his hot shooting, but his total control of the game. He got to his spots, never played in a rush and saw the game three steps ahead of the defense at every turn. Just look at this three-quarter court lob to big man Dereck Lively II, which Doncic throws toward the rim when Lively is still well outside the paint.

As if his offensive exploits weren’t enough, Doncic also came up with the game’s biggest defensive play down the stretch, blocking Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s layup attempt with just under a minute left. The Mavericks have now held OKC to 101 or fewer points in three straight games.

This was one of the best in a long line of standout playoff performances in Doncic’s career thus far, and it gives Dallas a chance to close out the series at home in Saturday’s Game 6. A win would put the Mavericks back in the Western Conference finals for the second time in three seasons, an impressive turnaround after missing the postseason entirely last year.

Like every great athlete, Doncic plays with passion that’s hard for mere mortals to comprehend, which undoubtedly leads to his constant chirping at officials. There’s no way he’s going to halt that behavior entirely, but Wednesday night’s game showed him, his team and the rest of the NBA exactly how unstoppable Doncic can be when he channels all of that intensity into the right place.

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