Luka Doncic cannot be stopped at the moment, and the San Antonio Spurs were the latest team to learn that the hard way. Doncic continued his ridiculous scoring binge with 51 points on Saturday night as the Mavericks beat the Spurs, 126-125, to extend their winning streak to six games.
Doncic has now scored 50 points three times in the past five games in what is fast becoming one of the best scoring streaks of the modern era. Before this 51-point, six-rebound, nine-assist effort against the Spurs, there was the 50-point outing against the Houston Rockets on Dec. 23, and the historic 60-point triple double in the overtime win over the New York Knicks on Dec. 27.
"I don't know [how I'm doing this]," Doncic said, "I think some games the're gonna double me, some games they're gonna let me run the pick-and-roll. I just accept the coverage and go from there."
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich marveled at Doncic's ability to control the game, and ended his press conference with what seemed like a reasonable ambition.
"Fifty is going to be our goal," Popovich joked. "We're holding Luka under 50. Quote."
They almost did so, to be fair, as Doncic didn't cross the 50-point barrier until he hit a pair of free throws with 4.1 seconds remaining, but his stamp had been on the game long before that. It started with a 20-point first quarter on his way to a 30-point first half in which he did whatever he wanted against the Spurs' defense. The Spurs tried to turn him into more of a playmaker in the third quarter, and he responded by carving them up for six assists in the frame as the Mavericks built a 17-point lead.
At that stage of the game, it seemed like Doncic would not play enough in the fourth quarter to chase another 50-point outing. Instead, the Spurs made a furious comeback that not only kept Doncic in the game but gave them multiple chances to tie or take the lead in the final 10 seconds.
First, Jeremy Sochan missed a potential go-ahead layup after a Tim Hardaway Jr. turnover. Then, trailing by three with 4.1 seconds left, they nearly gave Doncic a taste of his own medicine. Tre Jones was fouled and made the first free throw to make it a two-point game. He then missed the second on purpose and was fouled in the ensuing scrum, giving him two more free throws and a chance to tie the game. A miss on the second ended the Spurs' hopes.
Doncic may have hoped to be resting on the bench at that point, with the game well in hand, but when the Mavericks needed him he delivered once again. During this six-game winning streak, he's averaging 42.2 points, 10.8 rebounds and 10.2 assists on 58.7-percent shooting from the field and 46.7 percent from 3-point land.
In the process he made history during the most recent five games as the first player in NBA history to have at least 250 points, 50 rebounds and 50 assists over a five-game span. Furthermore, he now has four career 50-point games, as many as every other player in Mavericks' franchise history combined.
"I've never, since my seven years in the league, I've never seen anybody do what he's able to do," Christian Wood said. "He just needs to keep it up. He's on an incredible run. He's playing like an MVP, like clearly one of the best players in the league, and [I'm] happy for him."
The best news for Doncic and the Mavericks is that his big nights are leading to wins. The six-game winning streak is the longest of the season for the Mavs and tied for the longest in the Doncic era. One hot streak can make a big difference in the crowded Western Conference, and after a slow start the Mavs are now all alone in fourth place at 21-16.