Luka Doncic is blowing the doors of basketball wide open, picking up where Steph left off

Seerat Sohi
·4-min read

On Feb. 27, 2016, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry pulled up from 40 feet in overtime and broke basketball. The game-winner heard around the world was a triumph of skill, practice, gusto and necessity. Curry never knew how far he was from the hoop. He just knew the clock was dwindling, and it was time to shoot.

According to StatMuse, Curry was then in the middle of the greatest three-game 3-point shooting streak in NBA history. He also beat his own single-season record for threes made in a season in that game.

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Curry drilled 11 threes in a win against the Thunder on Wednesday, topped his own record three-game record with 29 threes over the last three games. Whenever Curry goes on these runs now, it feels like 2016 again. I’m 22 again, perpetually in wait for the next Warriors game, the next chapter in basketball’s greatest show.

Later that night, Luka Doncic stole the show from Curry. In the final possession against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, Doncic found a crack in the elevated ceiling Curry took the game to, found a crack in the gap between defenders Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas, crouched underneath it, found a clean (lol) look at the rim and nailed a 23-foot teardrop at the buzzer.

Doncic blew the doors of basketball wide open, picking up where Curry left off.

If you’re looking to make sense of the nonsensical, slow the shot down and pause right when Doncic is about to release the ball. Despite the chaos, his shot form is perfect. He stays true to the 45-degree release point, despite leaning forward, despite flailing, despite taking off his left foot and releasing with his right hand. He’s not falling. He’s floating. He’s levitating.

“I was really surprised when it went in,” Doncic said. “Those are the best feelings.” Those stupefying, laugh-out-loud absurd feelings.

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) shoots a three-point basket against the Memphis Grizzlies as time expired in the fourth quarter at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) shoots a 3-point basket against the Memphis Grizzlies as time expired in the fourth quarter at FedExForum. (Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

Doncic said he didn’t think he even got a look at the rim before taking the shot. But look at his eyes and you’ll see that’s not true. Look in his eyes and you’ll see Michael Jordan’s tongue sticking out, Kobe Bryant double-clutching, Allen Iverson floating a jumper so high Dwight Howard couldn’t goaltend it. 

The rim is the only thing Doncic is looking at. The shot is part of a through line of moments that, fueled by an escalating combination of skill, touch, dexterity, practice, concentration and defiance, have pushed the game to new limits.

Luck played a role — it always does — but practice makes its own luck. Curry normalized the ridiculous by repeating it consistently. Even Doncic, Mavericks forward Dwight Powell told the play-by-play announcers after the game, practices the shot that won the game.

"Obviously, it’s exciting to see that go in,” Powell said, "but we see him work on those kinds of shots all the time, so not a huge surprise. I’m glad he got it off clean, it was behind the line, so it was exciting, but not a surprise.”

It makes you wonder what kind of shots will never escape practice. You can catch glimpses of them pregame, where Curry practices shots from the tunnel, where Doncic hits behind-the-backboard 40-footers — shots that are literally outside the parameters of the game.

If we connect Curry’s performance to Doncic’s shot, then maybe — just maybe — what Doncic did Wednesday will one day be normal. No, not normal — never normal — but normalized. After all, just two years ago, Paul George called Damian Lillard’s stepback 30-foot game-winner over him a bad shot. George took that comment back last month.

A sport like basketball demands that we keep our sense of what’s possible fluid. So much of the fun is in testing out how far perfect geometric control of the body in relation to the ball can go. Kids on blacktops across the world play like Curry and Doncic, smiling through increasingly ridiculous shots, smiling sometimes because of their own silly audacity, other times because the shot actually goes in. Then it goes in again. And again. And then they take another step away from the hoop, trying to feel out just how deep their bag goes, wondering if its depth is endless.

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