Luka Dončić will never back down from a challenge, whether it’s one-on-one or one-on-three.
But one-on-seven was asking too much on Wednesday in the FIBA World Cup.
The powerful Canadians, led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and including Mavericks’ center Dwight Powell, overran Luka and Slovenia for a 100-89 quarterfinal victory.
This one was no Thrilla in Manilla, at least, not after halftime.
As the Canadians, who boast seven NBA players, pulled away by double figures. Dončić became increasingly frustrated with the officiating.
Finally, the Mavericks’ superstar point guard was ejected with his second technical foul with still more than six minutes to play and the Canadians owning a 15-point lead.
Dončić finished with 26 points and five assists, but the deep Canadian roster continually made him work hard for points and often double-teamed him to force the ball out of Luka’s hands.
Canada was led by Gilgeous-Alexander with 31 points and 10 rebounds, but he had loads of help. RJ Barrett had 24 points and nine boards as the Canadians had a 39-30 advantage on the glass.
Also contributing strongly for Canada was Nickeil Alexander-Walker with 14 points and Kelly Olynyk, who had only seven points, five rebounds and four assists, but was a game-best plus-27 when he was on the court.
The loss means Slovenia will play in the classification round to decide places five through eight.
Canada moves on to the semifinal and needs two more wins for what would be a surprising gold medal.
Surprising to most, at least. It was almost three months ago at a Mavs Academy hoop camp that Powell was asked what a realistic goal was for the Canadians, to which he told mavs.com: “Gold medal. That’s always the goal. But the World Cup is a stacked tournament. We got to be ready for everybody.”
So far, they have been, including taking care of Luka and the Slovenians.
Earlier on Wednesday, Germany squeaked by Latvia 81-79 to earn a date against the United States in the semifinals on Friday.
Canada will face Serbia in the other semifinal.
Not that it was a breeze for the Canadians.
The Slovenians made three-pointers in the first half and neither side could gain control of the momentum.
Dončić suffered his first technical foul midway through the second quarter and the Canadians would go up 44-40, but Luka came back with a three-pointer, a steal and a drive to the rim.
It was that sort of game as the first half ended tied at 50.
But the Canadians opened the third quarter with a 9-2 surge and their run extended as they built a 77-61 lead late in the period as the Slovenians went chilly from the three-point arc.
They trimmed the deficit to 80-71 going into the fourth, but it was a challenging climb the rest of the way.
Barrett started the final frame with a three-point play that included a two-handed jam.
The Slovenians’ dream of a medal in this tournament was quickly fading.