Luka Doncic’s buzzer beater wasn’t a breakout moment, it was a reminder of who he is

When Luka Doncic drilled the game-winner to put a cap on the Mavericks’ 135-133 overtime victory over Clippers that tied the teams’ first-round series at two games apiece, everyone from LeBron James to the casual fan had to praise him.

A 21-year-old isn’t supposed to record 43 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists in a must-win playoff game, especially not as an underdog against what had been the league’s title favorite. A player who sprained his ankle so badly he could only hop to the locker room 40 hours ago isn’t supposed to burn every single defender who tried to guard him.

An underdog team whose second-best player was ruled out minutes before tip-off isn’t supposed to level this first-round series in this game. A playoff debutant isn’t supposed to bury a cold-as-ice, buzzer-beating, game-winning, contested step-back 3-pointer – or, frankly, any shot with that many adjectives attached to it.

But Doncic did all that. And it still might not even be the highlight of his career.

Since he was 16 years old, Doncic has been performing at the professional level, often destroying grown men. Doncic has arguably played in more important games, such as the 2017 EuroBasket title with the Slovenian national team and the 2018 EuroLeague championship against Fenerbahce.

I’m not downplaying what Doncic did on Sunday to the Clippers. In fact I’m doing the complete opposite. For any normal 21-year-old, what Doncic did would be the greatest professional moment of their life.

But Doncic isn’t normal.

He is on a trajectory to go down as one of the greatest to ever play the game.

When he stepped back from Reggie Jackson, artistically arcing the ball 27 feet into the basket, he wasn’t announcing his arrival or entering a new phase of superstardom. No, he was reminding you this is who he is, and this is what he does.

Doncic admitted he felt different when the shot went in. For all the accolades he’s accrued, and for all the important games he’s played in, he’s never hit a game-winner quite like this in a postseason format.

“I would say it’s different. It’s the NBA playoffs,” Doncic said afterward. “When I hit the shot and the whole team’s running toward me — that’s one of the best feelings ever.”

At the 7:39 mark of the second quarter, the Los Angeles Clippers led 54-33. Doncic had five points on 2-of-5 shooting. The historic Mavericks offense had recently devolved into Michael Kidd-Gilchrist post-ups and Dorian Finney-Smith pick-and-rolls. Facing a 21 point deficit, without Porzingis, and Doncic on a banged up ankle, the rest of the game seemed inevitable to turn out as a blow out loss.

But then Doncic did what he does.

Doncic ruthlessly hunted mismatches throughout the game, specifically keying in on Reggie Jackson and Lou Williams when he was on the offensive end. Maxi Kleber often did the dirty work, setting screens to make sure those switches happened, even while his shotmaking ability has abandoned him.

Doncic created shots for each and every one of his role players. Trey Burke was sensational as he scored 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting. Seth Curry added another 15 points.

While the series is tied 2-2, the Mavericks have looked like the best team for majority of the series. I could argue the Mavericks have been the better team in every game if the series.

And it goes beyond Doncic and Porzingis out playing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Dallas has missed one of Doncic or Porzingis in every fourth quarter played thus far. (I’m counting Doncic’s foul trouble in Game 2, even though he did play towards the quarter’s end.)

This doesn’t mean the Mavericks are the better team, or the more talented team. It just means they have played better thus far. We know what Kawhi Leonard can do, how he can put a team on his back and take over a series. But it would be foolish to continue to look past this Mavericks team because they are under dogs.

This team is ahead of its schedule. A team led by a 21 year old should not be making life this tough on a team stacked with two of the best two way players the league has seen in the decade. The Mavericks, a roster with okay talent, some journey men, an all star and a 21 year old phenom should not be out playing a team, the Clippers who have veterans all around the court, a 2x Finals MVP, and multiple All-NBA defensive players.

Does this win mean the Mavericks are going to win the series?

I don’t know. But for the first time since we started contemplating the potential first-round matchup against the Clippers, it feels possible Dallas could really win. Not certain. Perhaps not even likely. But possible.

With Luka Doncic, anything is.

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