The last word most certainly belonged to Giannis Antetokounmpo but on a night when Europe’s two young superstars squared off, Luka Doncic became only the second teenager to record a triple double in NBA history and he did so at a reasonable hour for his homeland. Emmet Ryan on a special night for European hoops fans
Martin Luther King Day is great. The important part, naturally, is honouring Dr King’s legacy but NBA fans in Europe naturally have a more selfish reason to enjoy it. It’s the one weeknight of the year where there are multiple NBA games on before what a sane person calls bedtime.
Normally this means lots of courtsurfing on League Pass. There was Frank and Mario with the Knicks, Lauri and Cedi squaring off, Bogdan and Rodions were amongst the Euros in Brooklyn. Not this time, not this evening. No, tonight this rare day of sane hour NBA hoops belonged to one game because we needed it.
Since closing his club career in Europe, winning the ACB title with Real Madrid in his final game, Luka Doncic had not played a competitive game of basketball that tipped before midnight Slovenian time. That changed with the perfectly reasonable tip time of 8pm Central European Time. Not just that, but it was one of the few games this season that Greek fans would get to watch The Freak at a normal hour, tipping at 9pm their time.
That would have been more than enough, instead we were treated to a nervy battle where possibility became probability became oh please it has to happen this time and, we thought finally, loud cries of joy in apartments, dorms, and wherever else anyone could get a screen across the continent.
In the first 3 minutes, eh, Luka looked cold. The Bucks went straight to Giannis and he did what he does. For most of the evening he did. The numbers were, as usual, mightily impressive but what really jumped out was how much he was playing within himself. Giannis was out there in control but he didn’t have to really dig too deep into his move set to get everything he wanted. This is the fully formed Freak, well no we can’t be sure of him not having yet another evolution and there is a Pokémon movie due this summer, but he knows he doesn’t have to be a Swiss Army Knife on every possession. He does amazing things but here he was keeping things quite simple because Giannis keeping things simple can be devastating to the vast majority of NBA starter level players.
Doncic got himself together and made his first assist of the night. Then we really knew he was together when he made his second.That night was exciting for fans that enjoy betting on the NBA.
This is about the 11th most impressive pass Doncic has made this season, which is as ridiculous as it is true. pic.twitter.com/hxe8Gj3DrI
— Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla) January 21, 2019
There was another big boom moment from Giannis, he was still fun if not shocking us although it gets harder for him all the time to amaze. The Mavs managed to recover a bit after a really rough looking start before the wingman came in. When I say Maxi Kleber looks to Luka, I mean that in the literal sense. His eyes kept moving to to Doncic over and over. He plays like the type of buddy who would wash the dishes for Luka without asking if he got a sniff that something was up. Doncic fed him for a three and now the ball was working more for him.
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There was a brief distraction from the on court matters because, wow, turns out Bob Seger is playing Milwaukee on Thursday. He must be great live.
Throughout the early part of his NBA career, Doncic has been compared to so many Euros that have made it to the association. Just at the weekend Rick Carlisle compared him to Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc, and Argentinian legend Manu Ginobili. Even before the jump, the comparisons flowed, he was even referred to as the next Dejan Bodiroga* on our Sweet 16 podcast. Naturally, the most common references of late have been to Dirk Nowitzki, you can even get your own Goat and Kid t-shirt online.
*North American readers, be good to yourselves and watch some Bodiroga. Dude was unreal.
The most interesting contest for him however is Antetokounmpo because of how different their rises have been. The Freak wasn’t really on the Euro radar until he was already on the US one, NBA fans have watched his evolution along with fans here and arguably have paid closer attention at least in a direct sense. He’s athletically incredible and was so very raw when he began with the Bucks before reaching his current status of MVP favourite.
Luka, well he was on the radar of many by 15, of casual Euroleague fans by 16, of NBA fans with a passing interest in prospects by 17, and when he turned 18 it was hard to imagine anyone who cares about hoops in any way who wasn’t at least aware of the wunderkind. His athleticism was questioned before getting drafted but he came to Dallas clearly NBA ready. These are very different players with the common traits of being young Euros who are crossover superstars in the US, not just in the cities they play in but across the broader NBA fanbase.
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And at the half most of Europe was thinking one thing, he’s going to get the rebounds and assists but come up short on points isn’t he? Luka’s not exactly been pursuing a triple double but everyone over here has been checking boxscores to see how he’s doing. He’s had a couple of close calls but more impacts with people on the sidelines. He added to the latter tally in Milwaukee.
How many casualties are we up to with Luka getting shoved out of bounds? 4? pic.twitter.com/beO569GhNd
— Nick Angstadt (@NickVanExit) January 21, 2019
Big respect to Leslie the cameraperson, she took that like the pro she is. Before all that Luka started getting more lively on defence, pressuring Khris Middleton nicely, getting a block on Malcolm Brogdon, and then picking the pocket of Antetokoumpo. The numbers were starting to pick up, he had 7 points, 8 assists, and 9 rebounds before he barreled into poor Leslie. Then came the three and it was on entering the final frame.
Oh a Keith Thurman fight is coming up, he’s a really good fight and nobody across this continent cares because why is Luka sitting and why aren’t we getting the perfect resolution after waiting 6 months to watch him at a normal hour. Giannis was still doing great by the way.
The outstanding rebound came in the middle of the fourth and all that was needed was one assist. Ema Meden, a Slovenian fan who has gone to wild lengths to be able to watch Doncic play while also studying, had finally got her eyes to a screen…of all the days this was the one she had a conflict. In the end, with plenty of time left, it was the simplest moment of joy.
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) January 21, 2019
A simple enough dump off to DeAndre Jordan and the line read 10-10-10. It would pad out a bit through the end, 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists, but Giannis had a word to get in yet. The Mavs hanging with the Bucks meant his brother Kostas hadn’t gotten in the game on his first evening dressed for a game. That didn’t bother him, it’s a business. There was however the small matter of getting his after Doncic got that steal earlier. Over to you Mr Freak.
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) January 21, 2019
There’s a good chance Luka Doncic makes it to the All Star game, he’s going to be the main attraction for the Rising Stars, and he’s running away with the rookie of the year race. That’s all fine and a fantastic start to his career. Giannis had his 7th 30 and 15 night of the season, he’s got the MVP in his sights, he’s got a deep playoff run on his mind, and he’s giving serious thought to making this his league. These two going forward are going to be so much fun, even with all the late nights and early mornings on this side of the pond.
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