MILWAUKEE — Early in the fourth quarter on Sunday afternoon, Luka Doncic checked back into the game with his Dallas Mavericks trailing the Milwaukee Bucks by one. Less than three minutes later, after Doncic orchestrated a brilliant 11-2 run, the Mavericks were up by eight and would never trail again.
Sunday afternoon’s national TV game between the Bucks and Mavericks was billed as a matchup between two of the game’s brightest young stars: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Doncic. The former has been spectacular as of late, and might end up winning his third MVP award. It was the latter, however, who was the best player on the floor in this one.
“The ball’s in his hands so much, eventually he’s gonna 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 win. While he didn’t quite get another triple-double, he did extend his 30-point streak to five games, which is the longest of his career. In addition, he recorded his third 30-point, 15-assist game of the season, which is as many as the rest of the league combined.
His entire performance was impressive, as the stats and accolades show, but it was that 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 little time getting Doncic the ball after he checked back into the game, and as he controlled up top he called for a high-ball screen with Dwight Powell. That’s one of Doncic’s favorites, but what made this one especially interesting is that Giannis was guarding Powell. No matter, Doncic wanted the switch and wanted that matchup.
He showed why a few seconds later, breaking out an array of dribbling moves before lofting a perfect step-back 3 up and over the Greek Freak’s outstretched arm:
7:57 — Doncic fouled, hits two free throws to make it 95-91
A minute later, Doncic once again had the ball at the top of the key. This time, he was matched up against Khris Middleton and decided not to call for a screen. Instead, he went iso and used a behind-the-back dribble to get Middleton off-balance, then lowered his shoulder to get into the paint and drew a foul.
7:20 — Doncic finds Dorian Finney-Smith for 3 to extend Mavericks lead, 98-91
On the next possession, Doncic brought the ball down and went back to the well with the high screen. Once again, he was looking for the switch so he could go at Giannis. This time, though, he wasn’t looking to score. He stutter-stepped his way into the lane, drew 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 called for two pick-and-rolls with Powell in order to get the switch on Giannis, the Bucks tried to adjust by having Giannis guard Finney-Smith. Doncic responded with an adjustment of his own. He just had Finney-Smith come set the screen instead, and once again got the switch he wanted.
And it worked, again. Doncic got a step on Giannis, worked his way into the paint and then whipped an unbelievable pass out to Bullock in the corner for an open 3:
“I think there was times where it felt like we did well,” Jrue Holiday said. “Times where it felt like he [Doncic] made amazing plays. Sometimes at that point you can’t really be too mad at yourself.”
Watching Doncic take control of the game and essentially solve the Bucks’ defense in real time was incredible. 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 wasn’t setting up 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 off the dribble, and with Giannis stuck high up the floor, he wouldn’t be in his favored help-defense position.
It was an outing worthy of high praise, and Giannis delivered it himself.
“We did a solid job. He’s just very, very talented,” Giannis said. “He’s a very good player. He’s gonna make the right pass, he’s gonna make the pass to the roller, skip pass to the corner. He’s gonna make good decisions. Sometimes you can do everything right and people will still have good nights. He’s one of the most talented players in the league, one of the most talented players probably to ever play this game.”