On March 25, 1970, Milwaukee Bucks rookie center Lew Alcindor stepped on the floor of the Dane County Veteran Memorial Coliseum in Madison, Wisconsin, to face the Philadelphia 76ers. It was his first-ever playoff game, and he made sure everyone remembered it. Just three weeks shy of his 23rd birthday, the towering young man put up a staggering performance scoring 36 points and adding 20 rebounds as the Bucks rolled to win their Eastern Conference first-round series opener.
Two nights later, Alcindor had another spectacular outing, dropping 33 points on the Sixers, and adding 10 rebounds and five assists. The Bucks lost though, but their rookie continued to excel throughout the playoffs as he led them past Philadelphia (4-1), and then rattled off another string of unforgettable performances against the eventual champions, the New York Knicks. Over his first 10 playoff games, Alcindor’s scoring average was an unbelievable 35.2 points per night in what went down as the best debut in NBA playoffs history.
In 1971, he changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. His 69-point scoring total in his first two postseason games stood as an NBA record for half a century. Meanwhile, many great players had taken a shot at it, but none was able to unseat the league’s all-time best scorer. Magic Johnson (38 points), Larry Bird (29), Shaquille O’Neal (39), Kobe Bryant (8), LeBron James (58), Kevin Durant (56), Steph Curry (49) all came up short, as did Michael Jordan, who in 1985 torched the Bucks for “only” 53 points in the opening games of the first-round Eastern Conference series that the Chicago Bulls eventually lost 1-3.
Along came Luka Dončić and did what he has been doing ever since entering the league – break another record. The Slovenian kid, who was born 10 years after Abdul-Jabbar had played his last NBA game, scored 28 points today against the L.A. Clippers to lift his two-game playoff tally to 70, and improve the Big Fella’s historic achievement by a point. The margin would have been larger hadn’t Dončić gotten early into foul trouble, forcing Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle to limit his playing time. Ultimately, he spent 28 minutes on the floor, five less than his average this season.
The Mavs’ young star picked up his fourth foul with 11:08 to play in the third quarter, but insisted on staying in the game, and then collected his fifth early in the fourth quarter. He sat out 15 minutes in the second half, including a seven-minute stretch in the last quarter, but still managed to demonstrate his all-round game as he finished with 28 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. The Mavs, who got a huge 47-point boost from their bench, won the game 127-114, and tied the series.
After the game, TNT’s Jared Greenberg asked Dončić what he thought about surpassing Abdul-Jabbar’s 50-year-old mark. The new record holder’s answer barely focused on his scoring ability.
“We got a win, that’s all I care about. I mean, that’s great stats, but we got a win. I knew we could get a win. I knew we are able to fight these guys, and we showed up today,” said Dončić.
Being limited to only 28 minutes on the floor felt frustrating, he admitted.
“I just wanted to get out there and help my team. I was pissed, I did some unnecessary things I shouldn’t do. But we got a win, that’s all that matters. A lot of guys showed up, we played great defense, and that’s what we have to do,” he explained.
Before the playoffs started, the Clippers (49-23) were heavily favored to win the series against Dallas (43-32). Along with another L.A. juggernaut, the Lakers, and the owner of the league’s best record in the regular season, the Bucks, the bookmakers ranked them as a top-three title contender. However, the best-of-seven series is now split 1-1 and today’s win will definitely boost the Mavs’ confidence. Their best player has no doubt they can challenge the Clippers.
“We got a chance in this first round. A lot of people didn’t count us in, but we have a chance. We are going to give everything and leave our heart on the court,” Dončić said.
Game 3 tips off on Friday, 9 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time (Saturday, 3 A.M. Central European Summer Time).