The loudest ovation Sunday night at American Airlines center came when Dirk Nowitzki made his lone appearance for the Dallas Mavericks in the first quarter.
Luka Doncic generated his usual amount of cheers and gasps from the crowd throughout, save for the final two minutes.
Most emotion from the American Airlines Center crowd, though, was reserved Stephen Curry, and rightfully so. All he did for the Golden State Warriors was score 48 points, including the final seven of the game, as the two-time defending NBA champions rallied to a 119-114 victory over the Mavs.
But the Doncic buzz wasn’t gone after the final horn. It started before the opening tip.
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“He’s unbelievable,” Curry said.
Doncic scored a team-high 26 points, though he was unable to connect late as the Mavs missed their final eight shots and couldn’t hold a 113-108 lead with 3:51 remaining.
Curry, a two-time NBA MVP, and Kevin Durant, also former MVP, were asked afterward if Doncic should be selected to the All-Star Game in his rookie season. Curry dodged, and Durant seemed to have some doubts.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr was asked before the game, saying Doncic is already an All-Star even if he doesn’t participate next month in the annual no-defense free-for-all.
“He’s experienced in terms of playing high-level basketball,” he said of Doncic, who starred in Europe before being drafted third overall in the June draft and traded by Atlanta to the Mavs.
“I’m sure he heard all the doubters and people taking about his game who didn’t really know him. He’s made himself know, for sure. It’s fun to watch.”
Durant also spoke of how well Doncic plays and how he uses his experience abroad to his advantage, but wasn’t sure if he belongs in the All-Star Game. Doncic is a forward on the NBA All-Star ballot, and the Western Conference has no shortage of quality players at his position.
Fans, players and media will select the five All-Star starters from each conference, and coaches will select the seven reserves. Two of their seven selections are “wild cards” who could be either guards or front-court players.
“An All-Star maybe?” Durant said. “He’s playing great ball for a 19-year-old. It’s definitely something to look at and consider for the All-Star selection, but there are so many great players out there at his position.
“But just his poise for the game. He’s big and strong and fast. He played in Europe last season, so he’s playing in the second-best league in the world just focusing on his game. You can tell that he’s not shy. He’s not afraid of the moment. He’s going to be a force.”
Kerr sees the same thing as his two best players, but he also sees that Doncic has a presence that great players have.
Kerr didn’t call it the ‘it factor,’ but whatever it is, Doncic has it. He just might not have an All-Star nod as a rookie to go with it.
“Whether he makes it or not, he’s an All-Star,” Kerr said. “Certain guys just stand out. You see what they do. You see what they mean to the game. If he doesn’t make it this year, he’s going to make it soon enough.
“I think just the confidence, the skill set combined with the confidence level. Coming in at 19 years old, nearly 40 games under his belt, and looks like he’s been out here 10 years. That’s extremely rare, that kind of swagger, that kind of just confidence in his game, especially coming from overseas, living in the United States for the first time. All that stuff, you throw it together you can see his poise and maturity.”
Curry, Durant and Doncic were the three best players Sunday night. Curry hit 11 3-pointers, a record for a Mavs opponent, and the finale snapped a 114-114 tie with 42.2 seconds to go.
“You have to take those shots and live with those results, and tonight, obviously, it worked out,” Curry said. “
Harrison Barnes, who added 22 points for the Mavs, mishandled the ball with 12 seconds to go and a chance to tie it. The Mavs’ final point was a Doncic free throw with 1:54 left.
Doncic missed all three of his shots down over the final three minutes, but he didn’t get a shot off in the final minute.
“He’s trying to break the defense down and have the chances to score and get teammates involved,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “Some nights you don’t make every shot, and that’s one of the things about the NBA. He’s going to learn a lot from tonight’s game, and he still generates a lot of things out there.”
And, at the very least, he has impressed the reigning two-time NBA champions, whether he is named an All-Star or not.