NBA bubble breakdown: Giannis Antetokounmpo calls Luka Doncic ‘one of the most talented guys I’ve ever played against’

Luka Doncic was named a finalist for the Most Improved Player award on Saturday. It won't be long before he's a finalist for MVP.

Doncic put on another show Saturday night with 36 points, 14 rebounds and a career-high 19 assists to lead the Dallas Mavericks to a 136-132 overtime win over the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks. The reigning Rookie of the Year was the talk of the NBA bubble, including in the opposing locker room, where he drew high praise from the reigning Most Valuable Player.

"Talented, really talented. One of the most talented guys I've ever played against," said Bucks star Giannis Antetokoumpo, the 2019 MVP who was named a finalist for this year's award. "He's making the whole team better, and he's going to keep getting better. As long as he's making his team better, they're going to be tough to beat."

💫 @luka7doncic drops his NBA-leading 17th triple-double! #MFFL

36 PTS | 14 REB | 19 AST (career-high) pic.twitter.com/LOzLHy5QSb

Doncic dazzled with electric passes all night, driving into crowds in the paint only to somehow find an open teammate on the perimeter. For his final assist, Doncic went between his own legs to Maxi Kleber for a three-point play with about a minute left in overtime.

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle was particularly impressed by Doncic's last assist.

"I clapped. I applauded. I thought it was phenomenal," said Carlisle. "… Luka is not only a great basketball player, he's a great performer. I'd pay money to watch him play. I don't say that about a lot of players, but he's really special."

Everyone else seemed to make a bigger deal about the pass than the man himself.

"I don't know why I did it. I just did it. I didn't think about it," said Doncic, who has a league-leading 17 triple-doubles on the season, including three in five games during the restart. "I saw it and I didn't think about it before right in the moment."

Doncic shot 12-of-24 from the field and committed only two turnovers in 42 minutes, spearheading a Mavericks attack that had just six turnovers as a team.

Said Doncic: "I’m feeling fresh and just trying to make the right decision."

Luka Doncic recorded his league-leading 17th triple-double of the season in the Mavericks' win. (Photo: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images)

Saturday's games

Clippers 122, Blazers 117: Los Angeles rallied late and held on after Damian Lillard missed a pair of late free throws that sparked a postgame war or words.

Nuggets 134, Jazz 132 (2OT): Denver coughed up leads late in regulation and the first overtime before holding on thanks to 23 points from returning Jamal Murray.

Pacers 116, Lakers 111: T.J. Warren stayed hot with 39 points to help Indiana rally late and improve to 4-1 in the bubble, while dropping Los Angeles to 2-4.

Another HUGE night for @TonyWarrenJr!

▪️ 39 PTS on 15-22 shooting
▪️ Game-sealing triple
▪️ NBA-leading 34.8 PPG in Orlando pic.twitter.com/PCsP2pRkmD

Suns 119, Heat 112: Devin Booker scored 35 points as Phoenix improved to 5-0 in the bubble and moved within 2½ games of eighth place in the West.

Mavericks 136, Bucks 132 (OT): Luka Doncic recorded his league-leading 17th triple-double of the season to outduel Giannis Antetokounmpo in a Dallas win.

Sunday's schedule

All times Eastern. All games also available on League Pass.

  • Wizards vs. Thunder, 12:30
  • Grizzlies vs. Raptors, 2
  • Spurs vs. Pelicans, 3 (ABC)
  • Magic vs. Celtics, 5
  • Sixers vs. Blazers, 6:30 (NBATV)
  • Rockets vs. Kings, 8
  • Nets vs. Clippers, 9 (NBATV)

State of the playoff race

The West race tightened considerably heading into Sunday's games. Just 4½ games now separate seeds 2-6. The Nuggets pulled within 1½ games of the Clippers for second place. The Rockets maintained their hold on third, but the Thunder and Jazz are just a game back.  

At the bottom, the race for the eighth seed continues to heat up. The Grizzlies lead the Blazers by 1½ games, with the surprising Suns a half-game behind Portland. San Antonio is tied with Phoenix, though with a slightly lower winning percentage. The Pelicans and Kings are still in contention to force a play-in scenario, but they need wins Sunday to keep pace.

The Raptors can lock up the No. 2 seed in the East with a win Sunday. The Celtics remain solidly in third place. The Heat and Pacers are tied in fourth, with the Sixers a half-game behind in sixth.

Essential reading

WAR OF WORDS: Lillard claps back at Beverley and George for taunts

STILL ADJUSTING:LeBron struggling to get used to playing without fans

GRIM NEWS: Sixers' Simmons leaving bubble for surgery on left knee

RACE FOR EIGHTH: Will contenders' rest influence who gets No. 8 seed?

DELETE EIGHT:Teams not in the bubble losing ground for next season 

UNSUNG HERO: One of bubble's most essential figures won't be on court

DOING HIS PART: How Moe Harkless used quarantine to support Black culture

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