Lauri Markkanen had 26 points and Zach LaVine added 20 points, but the Bulls fell short against Luka Doncic and the Mavericks.
Sometimes when you are beaten like the Bulls were in Dallas Monday, 118-110 despite 26 points from a hobbled Lauri Markkanen and 20 points from Zach LaVine, you have to step back and admire the event like a great work of art. Perhaps not from the Bulls perspective, though they were neither anemic nor feckless. But more so for the excellence of Luka Doncic, the audacious 6-7 second year pro whose play is something of a Bird, Magic, Oscar pastiche.
"I don't know if I've ever been around anybody like him," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen.
"Just how versatile he is," said Markkanen. "He can do so many things. It's crazy how high his confidence is and where that can get you. Obviously, he is really special."
"His IQ, his size, he can shoot the ball very well," said Kris Dunn, who was held to 23 minutes with foul trouble trying to contain Doncic. "You put all those things together and you have a dynamite player."
"All that was advertised," said Coby White.
"I knew how good he was going to be last year," said LaVine. "But in one year it's crazy how you can become a top player and MVP candidate."
Bulls vs. Mavericks game recap
Doncic had 38 points—including a sensational third quarter with 21 points—11 rebounds and 10 assists. It was his fourth straight game with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, joining Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Russell Westbrook as the only players to record such seminal marks. It also was the second time he's had back to back 35-point triple doubles with already his 11th triple double.
Without much speed or the athletic ability usually measured at the famous post season combines, Doncic was a high draft pick, No. 3 last year when the Mavericks traded up with Atlanta, who selected the talented Trae Young. But Doncic is an archetype, a pure basketball player who embodies the simple and traditional elements of the game. John Wooden may have had the Doncic type in mind when he famously said to be quick, but don't hurry.
Most players in the NBA probably can beat Doncic in a race and retrieve for him something he might have lost on the top of the backboard. But few can match the purity of play and instinct for the game that Doncic, effectively the Mavericks' point guard, produces with his passing, his shooting, his instincts for the defense and the opposition.
When a player like that comes along, enhanced by the pure joy he displays with a knowing and wry smile buttressed by a whimsical repartee despite his Slovenian roots, it's a gift for all basketball fans.
The Bulls, who fell to a disappointing 13-24, challenged Doncic and the 23-13 Mavericks vigorously. Laconic Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who isn't much for the expansive compliment, said afterward, "This is one of the most physical teams in the league. I think they are the hardest playing team in the NBA. They just come at you constantly."
Carlisle doesn't have to soften up the Bulls. They're likely not meeting in the Finals.
The Bulls do compete, and it was costly Monday with Wendell Carter Jr. suffering a severe sprained ankle in the third quarter that could keep him out weeks. Of course, Markkanen was supposed to be out at least a game or two with his sprained ankle and didn't miss a moment with a dozen first quarter points. Daniel Gafford also suffered a sprained ankle, but he returned and had 13 points with six dunks. White had 15 points, Thaddeus Young 11 and Tomas Satoransky 11 points and 14 assists, several on lobs to Gafford. LaVine also had seven assists.
"It was probably the worst pain I ever endured as far as playing basketball," said Carter, who left the arena on crutches with what looked like a baseball growing out of his right ankle. "It was very frightening. I couldn't feel my toes after awhile."
It also was almost one year since Carter fractured his thumb and was lost for the season.
"While I was laying down on the ground, I'm like, ‘Man, this is the exact moment where I was hurt last year.' And it affected a lot of stuff for myself and my team," Carter said. "I just pray to God I can come back sooner. My goal is to come back no later than the end of this month. That's what I'm looking forward to right now. But my mindset now is to come back by Wednesday. That's just the kind of the person I am. I want to help my team the sooner the better. But it hurts a lot. Do as much therapy as I possibly can. See if I can go Wednesday. That's my mindset."
The attitude of the Bulls players does remain positive despite the disappointing series of setbacks, a fourth consecutive loss to fall four games out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference. They're called moral victories, but it seems more immoral the way they've lost to a big shot there, a great player here.
"You just have to keep playing," said LaVine, who failed to draw even one free throw despite numerous drives into the gaping maw of the Mavs' interior. "It eventually will come through, or at least you have to think that. Go out and play hard and I feel we are. We have another one soon and have to try to get on a roll. We're in a losing streak now, so we have to try our best to crawl out of that hole and pick it up."
The Bulls looked like they might Monday with Markkanen's surprise return and even more surprising start, eight of the Bulls first 12 points. But with the game tied at 18, Dunn drew a second foul and was out. Though smaller, Dunn has been defending the opponent's best scorer, often a taller player like Doncic or Jayson Tatum Saturday. Dunn is the team's best individual defender, and even stripped Doncic at midcourt for a breakaway slam dunk in the fourth quarter. The Bulls would have 27 fast break points in a game in which both teams pushed the ball with enthusiasm. It helped the Bulls to a 72-46 margin on inside points. It was Dallas this time with the three ball, 16 of 41 to nine of 31 for the Bulls.
Dunn's physical play didn't escape the officials' scrutiny this time. As soon as he drew his third foul and exited in the second quarter, the Mavs went in a 14-5 run. He drew a fourth early in the third quarter just before Doncic went on his historic spree, scoring 19 of the Mavs' 21 points in the last 7:46 of the third quarter.
It was a celebration of the art and beauty of the game, Doncic with pullup threes, twisting drives, a follow of his own miss, zig zig Euro steps. Though the Bulls hadn't cracked, trailing just 88-82 after three quarters.
"It's tough getting in foul trouble. I wasn't able to do what I would like," said Dunn. "Once a player gets going it's hard to stop him. That's something I have to be better with, my fouls. Just try to play solid and at the same time try to be me. There were a couple of calls I didn't agree with, but you have to live with it. I'm a physical defender. I like to get in people's jerseys. But when you're in foul trouble, you have to play cover three a little bit, play a little zone and back off; it was tough."
It's one reason Dunn was the only Bulls starter with a plus rating for the game.
The Bulls had been taking hits, trailing 33-27 after one quarter and 61-55 at half despite some fancy finishes by the Finnish Markkanen and lobs to Gafford, who also had two more blocks. The third quarter wasn't so disastrous this time even with Doncic's masterpiece.
Daniel Gafford with a huge slam against the Mavericks
But with Doncic resting the first half of the fourth quarter, the Bulls couldn't narrow their deficit. It was still 103-92 Dallas when Doncic returned midway through the fourth quarter. And when the Bulls trapped Doncic, he quickly found Justin Jackson and Max Kleber for threes and Dallas wasn't going to be caught even as Satoransky laid off another towering lob for a LaVine dunk.
"Everyone cares, everyone goes out to play their heart out," said Dunn. "It just sucks when you don't get the win to back it up."