MILWAUKEE – Early in the fourth quarter Sunday afternoon, Luka Doncic checked into the game again with his Dallas Mavericks behind the Milwaukee Bucks with one. Less than three minutes later, after Doncic orchestrated a brilliant 11-2 run, the Mavericks were up by eight and would never be behind again.
Sunday afternoon’s national TV match between the Bucks and Mavericks was considered a matchup between two of the game’s brightest young stars: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Doncic. The former has been spectacular lately and may end up winning its third MVP award. However, it was the latter who was the best player on the floor in this one.
“The ball is so much in his hands that he will eventually get some points, some assists,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He was better than us today.”
Doncic finished with 32 points, eight rebounds, 15 assists and three steals as he led the Mavericks to a 118-112 victory. Although he did not quite get another triple-double, he extended his 30-point streak to five games, which is the longest in his career. In addition, he recorded his third game with 30 points and 15 assists this season, which is as many as the rest of the league combined.
His entire performance was impressive, as the statistics and accolades show, but it was the three-minute stretch in the fourth quarter that really stood out. So much so that it’s worth going through play-by-play.
9:04 – Doncic step-back 3 puts Mavericks up, 93-91
The Mavericks wasted some time getting Doncic to the ball after checking into the game again, and when he checked the top, he called on a highball screen with Dwight Powell. It’s one of Doncic’s favorites, but what made this one particularly interesting was that Gianni’s guarded Powell. No matter, Doncic would have switched and wanted that matchup.
He showed why a few seconds later, and exclaimed a series of dribbles before lifting a perfect step-back 3 up and over the Greek freaks outstretched arm:
7:57 – Doncic makes a mistake, striking two penalty throws to 95-91
A minute later, Doncic again had the ball at the top of the key. This time he was matched against Khris Middleton and decided not to call for a screen. Instead, he went iso and used a dribble behind his back to get Middleton out of balance, then lowered his shoulder to get into the paint and made a mistake.
7:20 – Doncic finds Dorian Finney-Smith for 3 to extend Maverick’s lead, 98-91
At the next ball possession, Doncic brought the ball down and went back to the well with the high screen. Once again, he was looking for the contact so he could go to Giannis. This time, however, he was not out to score. He tribe-stepped his way into the field, pulled the defense and kicked the ball out to a wide open Finney-Smith in the corner for a 3:
6:55 – Doncic finds Reggie Bullock for 3 to make it 101-93, Mavericks
After Doncic demanded two pick-and-rolls with Powell to get the switch to Giannis, the Bucks tried to adjust by letting Giannis guard Finney-Smith. Doncic responded with his own adjustment. He just got Finney-Smith to get to set the screen instead, and again got the switch he wanted.
And it worked again. Doncic got a step on Giannis, worked his way into the paint and then slammed an incredible pass out to Bullock in the corner for an open 3:
“I think there were times when it felt like we were doing well,” Jrue Holiday said. “Times when he felt like he [Doncic] made amazing plays. “Sometimes, at that point, you can’t really be too angry with yourself.”
It was incredible to see Doncic take control of the game and essentially loose the Bucks’ defense in real time. He knew exactly what he wanted to do, why he wanted to do it, and when it was going to happen. The scoring, the passing, the game management, it was all there and there was nothing the Bucks could do about it.
He did not make the switch with Giannis because he wanted to get into a mano a mano-scoring duel, but rather because he knew he could get past him from the dribble, and with Giannis stuck high up on the floor, he would not be in his preferred assisting position.
It was an excursion that was highly praised and Giannis provided it himself.
“We did a solid job. He’s just very, very talented,” Giannis said. “He’s a very good player. He wants to make the right pass, he wants to make a pass to the roll, jump the pass to the corner. He wants to make good decisions. Sometimes you can do everything right and people will still have good nights. one of the most talented players in the league, one of the most talented players who has probably ever played this match. “