Luka Doncic Continues Pursuit of Rookie of the Year Award With Late Heroics Against Wolves
When the Mavericks failed to get stops down the stretch of their game against the Timberwolves on Friday night, they turned instead to Luka Dončić. The rookie was left with no room for error. Minnesota scored on 10 straight possessions in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, ordering from the full menu of bruising post-ups, artful runners and hard-earned layups. All five Wolves scored in the process. Dončić, meanwhile, was an offense unto himself. Every field goal that Dallas made in the final six minutes was created, in some way, by him—including a series of three consecutive go-ahead buckets to ice the game for good, 119-115, spoiling what was Ryan Saunders’s home debut as the Wolves’ newly ordained head coach.
First came the hanging floater over the outstretched arm of Karl-Anthony Towns. When Jeff Teague scored in response, Dončić brought the ball down the floor, blew past Derrick Roseand somehow squeezed a dunk between the eager contests of Towns and Taj Gibson. Gibson helped Minnesota take back the lead with a tip-in, but the chaos of a busted Mavericks inbound play (and a subsequent Wolves turnover) set up Dončić for the killing blow. A 19-year-old casually walked into crunch-time glory, pouring cold water over what had been a charged return home for Saunders and the Wolves.
Heat guard, fellow Slovenian and first-wave Luka booster Goran Dragić appreciated Dončić’s performance from afar:
According to ESPN Stats and Info, Dončić is the first rookie to hit three go-ahead shots in the final two minutes of a regulation game since Vince Carter did so in 1999. A few other points to consider as you digest his ridiculous display in full:
• Dončić put up 29 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds against the Wolves, making him the youngest player on record* to do so. More broadly, Dončic is the youngest player to put up 25 points and 10 assists in a game since LeBron James in 2004. (James managed that line three times during his rookie season. This is Dončić’s first.)
• Over his past three games, Dončić has averaged 28.7 points, 6.0 assists and 7.0 rebounds. It ain’t James Harden, but the Rookie of the Year favorite is only cementing his case and furthering his legend.
• As was noted by @PositiveResidual, every one of Dončić’s 12 assists went to either a three-pointer (8) or a shot at the rim (4). In total, that means Dončić accounted for 61 of the Mavericks’ 119 points—all while committing a single turnover.
• This win moved the Mavericks (20-22) into a tie with the Wolves (20-22) in the standings. On the off chance that they wind up tied at season’s end, this game—and thus Dončić’s performance—clinched the season series for Dallas and thus the first tiebreaker. This game also, coincidentally, resolved a tie between the Mavericks (4-18) and Cavs (3-18) for the worst road record in the league.
*The full box score record on Basketball-Reference dates back to the 1982-83 season.