MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic never really squared off in their first head-to-head matchup, with the enormous exception of one game-deciding moment.
The established All-Star drove the lane.
The rising All-Star had no chance to stop him.
There will be plenty of Giannis vs. Luka moments before their NBA careers are all said and done, but the first one came on Monday and it absolutely went Antetokounmpo’s way. His dunk over Doncic with 2:50 left was a punctuation mark of sorts in Milwaukee’s 116-106 win over Dallas, a game that featured a top international candidate for MVP this season against the very likely international rookie of the year.
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Antetokounmpo finished the dunk with a stare-down of Doncic. If there was a message in there, Antetokounmpo wasn’t saying.
“Just a dunk,” Antetokounmpo said. “It was a momentum play.”
Doncic — to the 19 year-old’s credit — was poised enough afterward to acknowledge that he’s still got a lot of room to grow before he consistently gets to Antetokounmpo’s level.
“He’s a great, great player,” Doncic said. “He’s talked (about as) an MVP of this league. He’s becoming one of the best players in this league.”
The dunk didn’t certify that.
But it did ensure the game didn’t slip away.
Antetokounmpo led everybody with 31 points, and grabbed 15 rebounds. Doncic became the second teenager in NBA history with a triple-double — finishing with 18 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists — and still wasn’t impressed with himself, because it came in a loss and in a game in which he shot 6 for 17 from the floor.
“A triple-double from a rookie is pretty impressive,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
The Bucks gave Antetokounmpo a quick rest with about 5 minutes left in the fourth, up by 11.
A minute later, Dallas was within six. Thus ending the rest and setting the stage for the monster dunk.
Milwaukee called time to get Antetokounmpo back into the game, and moments later he found Malcolm Brogdon on an impressive pass from the high post for a reverse layup. Doncic got Brogdon — a tough defender — to bite on a shot fake and turned that into a three-point play with 3:05 left, only to have Antetokounmpo drive the lane for the over-Doncic slam on the ensuing Milwaukee possession.
Game over. There was time left, but the dunk sealed this one.
“I am happy for my triple-double,” Doncic said. “But I would prefer the win for sure.”
He’ll have plenty more chances, and odds are, the world will be watching many of them. Greece and Slovenia are allies, officially, but Antetokounmpo won Round 1 of this basketball showdown. He prevailed despite Doncic’s triple-double — that came with him at 19 years, 327 days old, just 10 days older than Markelle Fultz was when he had one last season.
And their starry matchup that could be must-see TV for years to come was one of many international ties in this one.
Dirk Nowitzki — drafted by the Bucks 21 years ago, part of the prearranged deal worked out for Milwaukee to choose him and send him to the Mavs for Robert “Tractor” Traylor — was available for Dallas, but didn’t play. Doncic is making daily headlines in Slovenia. Greek fans tweeted about Antetokounmpo sharing the floor during a pregame workout with his brother, Mavs rookie Kostas Antetokounmpo, who is still waiting to make his in-game NBA debut.
“It’s great that they get a chance to be in the same building, both in uniform for opposing teams,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “I think it must really be a nice thing for Giannis to have his little brother there, so it’s pretty cool.”
The brothers chatted in courtside seats about 90 minutes before the game, posed for some photos, then left the arena together along with their mother.
“I wish I’d played against him,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “But those few moments that we spent before the game and during the game and after the game, they were amazing.”
James Harden’s scoring tear of late for Houston might have him back on top in the MVP race, but Antetokounmpo is still right there. He illustrates where the NBA game is now: As on-court schemes change, the European players are feeling more at home half a world away from their homelands. Antetokounmpo is a chiseled product who seems to still be getting better. Doncic arrived polished, but hardly is done developing.
The Bucks belong to Giannis. Soon, if not already, the Mavs will belong to Luka.
“It has been fun to be a part of,” said Nowitzki, who hails from Germany. “It’s fun to watch some of the European guys come in and not only be on the team, but be franchise players and go-to guys. It has been amazing to watch.”
Odds are, the next Giannis-Luka moment will be amazing as well.
Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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