After Dallas Mavericks point guard Luka Doncic put his greatness front and center once again inside the bubble in Orlando on Saturday night, coach Rick Carlisle had to search for another way to give the second-year veteran the ultimate compliment.
Forget showering Doncic with a bunch of superlatives. The dazzling display by Doncic that led to the Mavs’ remarkable 136-132 overtime victory over the powerful Milwaukee Bucks helped Carlisle take things to a whole new level when it came time to manufacture some more adjectives to describe arguably the NBA’s No. 1 entertainer.
“I’d pay money to watch him play,” Carlisle said of Doncic. “I don’t say that about a lot of players, but he’s really special.
“Luka’s not only a great basketball player. He’s a great performer.”
And boy, did Doncic put on a show for the virtual fans at the expense of the Bucks.
Milwaukee (55-15) entered the game as the No. 1 defensive team in the NBA and had already clinched the No. 1 overall seed in the upcoming playoffs. But that didn’t stop Doncic from treating the Bucks like a shredder treats paper.
By the time the dust settled, Doncic had secured his third triple-double in five games in the bubble – all of the other players from the 22 teams in the bubble have combined for just one triple-double. Overall, after tagging the Bucks for a whopping 36 points, 14 rebounds and a career-high 19 assists, Doncic now leads the league with 17 triple-doubles.
Assist No. 19 for Doncic was one of those extraordinary passes that would lead anyone’s Top 10 plays in any era of basketball.
On the play, Doncic dribbled down the left side of the lane, then somehow spotted Maxi Kleber storming down the middle. Without looking, Doncic bounced a perfect lefthanded pass between his legs that Kleber caught, dunked, was fouled and made the free throw that padded the Mavs’ lead to 133-128 with 1:08 remaining in overtime and had the virtual fans roaring their approval.
So impressed was Carlisle that he said: “I clapped. I applauded. I thought it was phenomenal.
“The sign of a great player, a truly great player, is his ability to pull off something like that against a team like Milwaukee that gives up virtually zero (points) in the paint, and that leads to the and-one. That was a huge play in the game, too.”
Doncic, of course, shrugged off the play as just another masterpiece is his arsenal of unforgettable plays that historians will pull out of basketball libraries many years down the road.
“I don’t know why I did it,” said Doncic, who also had just two turnovers. “I just did it. I didn’t think about it before.”
It was the 12th time this season Doncic has produced a triple-double where he scored at least 30 points. He also drained a pair of free throws with 21.4 seconds remaining in regulation that knotted things at 119 and sent the game into overtime.
Overall, it was one picturesque night for the Mavs, who are 2-3 in the bubble and 42-30 overall, and who, for the first time in franchise history, have swept the team who finished the season with the league’s best winning percentage. And this time a Mavs team not known for precise execution during late-game situations did enough of the right things they needed to do down the stretch to wind up sweeping the season series against the team with the best record in the NBA.
“We’re learning from the last couple of games,” said Dorian Finney-Smith, who tallied a career-high 27 points and grabbed 11 boards. “Coach asked us to be relentless for the whole game and I think we did a great job of that.
“Defensively we only gave up 20 points (in the third quarter). That’s probably the best third quarter we’ve had since we’ve been in the bubble. We just got to learn from that and have some carry-over to the next game.”
The Mavs trailed by 11 points, but used a 16-0 run bridging the fourth quarter and overtime session to nab a 128-119 lead. A lot of lockdown defense on the Mavs’ part helped lead to Dallas getting back in the game and taking control of the situation.
“They’re a great defensive team, but we’re also a great offensive team,” Finney-Smith said. “We knew we had to move their defense, move the ball, just because they sit on plays and they’re great defensively.
“But Luka did a great job of penetrating, the guys did a good job of penetrating. Luka really do find guys and score, KP played great and we’re just a great team.”
The Mavs led 35-32 after the first quarter, but Milwaukee took a 71-62 lead at halftime. By then, Doncic had already rang up 15 points and 10 assists, and the last player for the Mavs with similar halftime numbers was Jason Kidd in 2009.
“He knows where everybody is, not only on offense, but defense,” Carlisle said in describing Doncic. “That’s the sign of a savant-type guy. I played with Larry Bird – he could see everything like that. I had the privilege of coaching Jason Kidd – he could see everything like that.
“Luka’s in that same mold. He’s got a different body type, he’s got a different kind of game, but when he draws the attention, somebody’s going to get a wide-open shot. There were a lot of instances tonight where we had great shots that didn’t quite go in. Otherwise these numbers could have been even more ridiculous.”
Besides Doncic and Finney-Smith, the Mavs got some very meaningful contributions from Kristaps Porzingis (24 points, 11 boards), Kleber (15 points) and Trey Burke (10 points).
But clearly, Doncic stole the show as he has on numerous occasions this season.
“This guy is a phenomenal player and he’s getting better really by the hour, by the day,” Carlisle said. “The efficiency numbers against these two past teams (the Los Angeles Clippers and Bucks) are really remarkable. Both teams will turn you over, both teams have guys that will deflect and get their hands on a lot of balls, but I was most impressed with his leadership throughout the game.
“He kept a real calm demeanor, he kept guys playing during some tough stretches. His conversations with the officials were short and to the point, and the officials listened and we moved on. The leadership aspect of it is really the big picture. It’s just as big as these ridiculous statistics that he’s putting up.”
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