Carlisle Raves About 'Bird/Kidd-Like Savant' Luka

Mike Fisher

Rick Carlisle hates comparisons. Over the course of the last two years, if you ask the Dallas Mavericks coach to play that game, especially as it applies to Luka Doncic, Rick by rote will generally respond, "He's the first Luka.''

But the undeniable greatness put on display in the Orlando bubble on Saturday moved Carlisle to "clap'' and "applaud'' and recognize that what he'd just seen was "phenomenal.''

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The praise was stimulated by a specific play in the Mavs’ notable 136-132 overtime victory over the gifted Milwaukee Bucks.

The situation: Dallas is up 130-128 with 1:08 remaining in OT. While most any viewer would feel nervous about the Mavs dumping another clutch-time win, Doncic - in the midst of another monster effort with 36 points, 14 rebounds and a career-high 19 assists - was under control.

Luka dribbled left, drew a double-team featuring Giannis Antetokounmpo, and then without looking shoveled a left-handed bounce pass between his own legs that arrived into the hands of the cutting Maxi Kleber, who dunked, was fouled and made the free throw.

And suddenly Dallas is up five, on its way to a two-game season sweep to the best team in the NBA East.

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“I don’t know why I did it,” said Doncic. “I just did it. I didn’t think about it before.”

Said Carlisle: “I clapped. I applauded. I thought it was phenomenal. ... I’d pay money to watch him play. I don’t say that about a lot of players, but he’s really special. Luka’s not only a great basketball player. He’s a great performer.”

But then Carlisle went deeper. 

“The sign of a great player, a truly great player, is his ability to pull off something like that against a team like Milwaukee that gives up virtually zero in the paint, and that leads to the and-one,'' he said. "He knows where everybody is, not only on offense, but defense. 

That’s the sign of a savant-type guy. I played with Larry Bird – he could see everything like that. I had the privilege of coaching Jason Kidd – he could see everything like that.

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“This guy is a phenomenal player and he’s getting better really by the hour, by the day ... I was most impressed with his leadership throughout the game ... He kept a real calm demeanor, he kept guys playing during some tough stretches. His conversations with the officials were short and to the point, and the officials listened and we moved on. 

"The leadership aspect of it is really the big picture. It’s just as big as these ridiculous statistics that he’s putting up.”

As ridiculous as Bird. As ridiculous as Kidd. And on some nights for Luka Doncic, as ridiculous as the two of them, and more, rolled up together.