Luka Doncic humanizes hyperbole.
He just goes out there and casually achieves absurdity, compiling stat lines basketball hasn’t seen since Magic Johnson or, incredibly, Wilt Chamberlain.
Game 4 of his Mavericks’ playoff series against the Clippers was Doncic’s masterpiece (until basketball’s van Gogh goes to the easel again). Dallas, the No. 7 seed, trailed two games to one. Doncic suffered a terrible ankle injury 40 hours prior in the previous game. Unquestionably, he was playing through pain. Meanwhile, teammate Kristaps Porzingis (who scored 34 points with 13 rebounds in Game 3), sat out Game 4 with an injury. Sure enough, at one point during Game 4, the hobbled Mavericks trailed the Clippers by 21 points.
But, Luka. He calmly, simply took over an NBA playoff game. He forced overtime. He finished with 43 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists — get Luka on the court in the bubble and he’ll mess around and get a triple-double. And, because it’s Doncic, this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill greatness. In the history of the NBA playoffs, no player ever achieved a triple-double with at least 43 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists. No player. Furthermore, the only time a player did so in a regular season game was, yes, Chamberlain. In 1968.
Oh, and down one with time expiring in overtime, Doncic hit a game-winning 3-pointer.
On the call for ESPN radio was Sean Kelley, a St. Louis native, who is in the “bubble” for the playoffs. Asked Tuesday about that call, Kelley said, “I was full of adrenaline, but somehow was able to calm myself just enough for the final play. I knew Luka would be involved. Down one. Last chance. Would he make a crazy, winning assist? Or would he go for the game winning shot? As it unfolded, I had no idea what was coming out of my mouth. I’m thankful I didn’t say anything my mother would frown upon — I certainly was thinking that kind of language as the ball went through the net. Every hair on my body was standing at full attention. …
“It took me hours to come back down after the game.”
The 6-foot-7, 230-pound Doncic was in just his fourth-ever playoff game. His magic emulates Magic — Earvin Magic Johnson is the only other player in NBA history to record two triple-doubles in his first four playoff games.
Game 5 of Mavs-Clippers is tonight at 8 pm CST on TNT. Kelley will again have the call on ESPN radio.
“Luka sees the game in a way few other humans can,” Kelley said. “His use of angles, timing, and knowledge of the other nine players on the floor make him the ultimate facilitator. His body type gives him strength and his head carries a bravado that combine to make his plays pretty and lethal at the same time. Oh, and he is only 21 years old. He is going to be a generational talent.”
For those just learning about Doncic, he won the rookie of the year last season (21.2 points per game, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists.). This season, he finished with averages of 28.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists.
For perspective, this season he finished sixth in NBA scoring average, 18th in rebounds and third in assists. If most players accomplished anyone of those three finishes, it would likely mean they had a career year. Doncic did all three. And he’s 21.
More Luka amazingness — after just 116 NBA games, he achieved his 21st career triple-double. That made for a Mavericks team record. Jason Kidd, forever associated with triple-doubles, had the team record … and did it 500 Dallas games (obviously, Kidd’s prime was with New Jersey, but still all worth pointing out).
When Doncic was a boy in Slovenia, he patterned his game after the legendary versatile player LeBron James. Earlier this season, a humbled James was asked about that by ESPN:
“You never know who you can inspire along your path. You hope that you can inspire the next generation. For me, by playing the game the right way, always getting my teammates involved and playing for the purity of the game, I was able to inspire a kid that wasn’t even in America. And that’s pretty special.
“Obviously, we see what he’s capable of doing. His ability to make plays not only for himself but for his teammates. To rebound and just to play for the pure love of the game — it’s a beautiful thing to watch.”