Luka Doncic did not enjoy himself in Game 3 of the Mavericks’ Western Conference first-round playoff matchup with the No. 2-seeded Clippers.
The 130-122 loss hurt, of course, but so, too, did two ankle tweaks that forced him out of the contest late. The 21-year-old also exchanged words with LA center Montrezl Harrell, a sign of his rougher edge.
But even as Doncic gutted through his third career playoff game, he still looked really good. Like, historically good.
Doncic continued his Robinson-to-Duncan, Favre-to-Rodgers type of ascent for the Mavericks, taking the Dallas star mantle from Dirk Nowitzki and running with it. He recorded a triple-double in 29 minutes with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. It’s becoming clear that like Nowitzki before him, he can be every bit as good of a postseason player as a regular-season producer.
The key word for Doncic is still “potential,” regardless of what he does now. There have been so many star fall-offs in NBA history — for physical and mental reasons — and it would be premature to crown someone this young a Hall of Fame-caliber player like Nowitzki. That said, it would be difficult for Doncic to play much better against a title-contending Clippers team at this age. Mavericks fans should be thrilled with what his early postseason returns mean, and how they stack up with Nowitzki’s early years.
Doncic has been superior to Nowitzki through his first three postseason games despite being in the NBA for less time and being younger during his initial taste of playoff action.
A look at that head-to-head comparison:
Game 1: 20 points (7-of-20 shooting), 12 rebounds, three turnovers, one assist in 48 minutes. Loss.
Game 2: 15 points (3-of-11 shooting), four rebounds, two turnovers, two assists in 46 minutes. Loss.
Game 3: 33 points (9-of-19 shooting), 10 rebounds, two turnovers, two assists in 48 minutes. Win.
Game 1: 42 points (13-of-21 shooting), 11 turnovers, nine assists, seven rebounds in 38 minutes. Loss.
Game 2: 28 points (8-of-17 shooting), eight rebounds, seven assists, one turnover in 28 minutes. Win.
Game 3: 13 points (4-of-14 shooting), 10 rebounds, 10 assists, two turnovers in 29 minutes. Loss.
Nowitzki wound up winning that first playoff series — vs. the Jazz in 2001 — which will be a difficult feat for Doncic to match. He also had a different trajectory than Doncic, growing into his greatness at a slower pace.
The end result for Nowitzki was something few players in NBA history have replicated: 12 All-NBA nods, an MVP and an NBA title. Now it’s time for Doncic to begin shaping his own Mavericks legacy in the footsteps of a mentor.
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