As Olympic debuts go, this one will be hard to top.
Mavericks’ superstar Luka Dončić became an instant hit in the Games at Tokyo with an amazing 48 points in Slovenia’s 118-100 victory over Argentina at Saitama Arena .
It was the first time the country has made the Olympics in men’s basketball. Dončić obviously is a major reason as he and a better-than-expected supporting cast dismantled the Argentines, who are a shell of the team that won the gold medal in 2004 and the bronze in 2008.
It’s clearly a new day in international basketball with Dončić now a full-fledged star, not only in the NBA but the global competitions.
The 48 points tied the second-most in Olympic history.
In addition to his point total, which could have ended up being an Olympic record had the game been more competitive in the fourth quarter, Dončić had 11 rebounds and five assists. Brazil’s Oscar Schmidt owns the Olympic scoring record with 55 points in 1988.
Dončić had a sizzling start to his Olympic unveiling. He nailed three of five 3-pointers and had 17 points in the first quarter as the Slovenians took a 32-24 lead. More impressive, perhaps, was his 4-for-4 free-throw shooting. The 6-7 point guard had some issues in that department during the NBA season.
By halftime, when Dončić had 31 points, the Slovenian lead was 20 points and Argentina never threatened in the second half.
Dončić finished with 18-of-29 shooting, hit 6-of-14 from 3-point range and was 6-of-7 from the free-throw line.
As usual, he wasn’t in a gushing mood about his astounding game.
“I don’t care about records,” he said to reporters in Tokyo. “We got a win and that’s what we came here for.”
As Argentina’s coach, Sergio Hernandez, said: “For me, I said this two years ago: He is the best player in the world, including the NBA. And if there was any doubt in my mind, there is no doubt anymore. He is the best player in the world.”
The victory opened group play successfully and the Slovenians now have games against Japan on Wednesday and Spain on Sunday. The top two teams from each of the four groupings go to the quarterfinals. A win over Japan would likely punch Slovenia’s ticket into the quarters.
The Slovenians may be long shots to reach the medal podium, but the way Dončić played, they looked virtually unbeatable. And he got strong help from teammate Mike Tobey, not a native Slovenian, but who qualifies for their roster, and who played briefly in the NBA in 2016-17.
Perhaps the chief contenders for the medals should take notice. Slovenia’s men’s senior team now is 14-0 in games that Dončić has played. They were unbeaten when they won the European championship in 2017 and swept four games in the qualifying tournament to reach these Olympics.
And the opening game was clearly Luka’s show and he made sure nobody will forget it. He didn’t have to play in the final few minutes with the game safely tucked away.
Meanwhile, another Maverick, Josh Green, made his Olympic debut with Australia in an 84-67 victory over Nigeria.
Green played six minutes in the game with two rebounds and two steals.
The Aussies were led by San Antonio guard Patty Mills with 25 points.