There was a pursuit of history late Friday night in the Target Center as the Mavericks and Timberwolves traded blows down the stretch. Heading into the fourth quarter, Luka Doncic was only a few rebounds and assists shy of joining Markelle Fultz as the youngest players in NBA history to record a triple double.
As the final buzzer sounded, Doncic finished with 29 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds and two steals in 35 minutes, becoming the first teenager in NBA history to record such numbers. And while he missed out on the historic triple double, what transpired in the Mavericks fourth road win of the season will carry far more weight than a statistical feat that will presumably be broken by another rookie phenom down the line.
Bigger than a triple double, Doncic flexed his superstar potential and clutch prowess as he willed the Mavericks to victory.
The 19-year-old rookie was fantastic the entire game, but it was the fourth quarter – and the final few minutes – that set Doncic apart from his peers and showed just how special he is.
Luka Doncic.— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) January 12, 2019
Vote for Luka: https://t.co/IA4KyDZTRh pic.twitter.com/a0jFZyusql
Take the three plays compiled in the tweet above for example. In the first set, with the Mavericks down one, Doncic used a DeAndre Jordan screen and nudged into Karl-Anthony Towns just enough to create separation and get the one-legged runner to fall.
In the second set, the Mavericks run almost the same action, but Jalen Brunson screened the screener’s man, causing just enough confusion to give Doncic a crease to the basket. From there, Doncic flushed it home between Towns and Taj Gibson, showing off some of that athleticism many draft pundits claimed he didn’t have enough of.
And finally, in the third set Doncic flashed the rare quality of being a closer. After throwing a bad inbounds pass, Maxi Kleber was able to chase the loose ball down and get it back into their best player’s hands. Now, it’s important to understand the context of this moment: Doncic was one-of-eight on his three-point attempts up until this shot. He was pushing the ball on a five-on-four break (after nearly turning it over and ending the game), and the defense is in an obvious predicament with one man trying to guard both Kleber and Brunson on the weak side.
But similar to when Dirk Nowitzki’s fadeaway jumper was a mismatch even when the double was coming, or when Michael Irvin was open down the sideline even with a defender draped on his hip, so too was a hoisted Doncic three with 18 seconds left on the shot clock over the outstretched arm of Towns. With the game on the line, Doncic delivered.
Speaking to the media post game, Dirk Nowitzki, an iconic closer in his own right, touched on Doncic’s finishing efforts.
“We put the ball in his hands when the game is on the line, and like I said, he has the confidence in himself down the stretch to make big plays,” Nowitzki told the media after the game. “The playmaking, the shotmaking for a 19 year old - we can say it over and over - is incredible.”
Incredible might even be an understatement. With 6:07 left to play and the Mavericks up 102-95, Doncic put on a dominant offensive display scoring or assisting on 15 of the Mavericks final 17 points. He was poised, he was calm, and he was controlled. He was everything the Mavericks thought he would be when the team mortgaged part of the future for a generational talent, and he did it all while being the youngest player on the floor.
It’s almost like Doncic was built for clutch moments. From the overseas YouTube clips, to the NBA, the rookie plays like a 28-year-old veteran when the game is on the line. In fact, for players who have 30 or more field goal attempts in the clutch, Doncic’s 57 percent shooting on 48 attempts trails only Victor Oladipo (63 percent on 38 attempts) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (60 percent, 30 attempts).
So while missing out on the historic triple double will sting for a moment, the clutch play, the poise and the maturity — not only in this game, but for the entire season — could have ripple effects on the organization for years to come.