It was a battle between Chicago Bulls 2017 first round draft pick Lauri Markkanen and potential Bulls 2018 draft pick Luka Doncic.
But in Slovenia’s 81-78 victory over Finland on Saturday afternoon, it was Markkanen who shined the brightest of the two. Well, at least until the final 15 seconds of the game when everything unraveled.
The 20-year-old Finnish big man picked up right where he left off after exploding for 22 points on Friday in Finland’s win against France. In Finland’s loss to Slovenia, he scored 24 points on 9-for-13 from the field (3-for-5 from 3-point land), and played good defense against former NBAer Anthony Randolph.
Despite all these good things, the lasting impression were those final 15 seconds. Down one with about 15 seconds remaining, Finland put the ball in his hands. He over dribbled and turned the ball over which ended in a Slovenian dunk.
It's a good sign when you're shouting, "GET THE BALL TO LAURI!" But this is a friendly reminder NBA level athletes will be a new challenge. pic.twitter.com/pksB97THKC— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) September 2, 2017
But then the EuroBasket gods granted him a chance at redemption. With three seconds to go and his team down by a triple, he received a pass in the paint, dashed out to the 3-point line, but stepped out of bounds in his haste. He also hurt himself in the process.
Markkanen steps out of bounds on game-tying attempt, injures himself on the play. He's being helped off the court after the game. pic.twitter.com/uQWBegS5Zk— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) September 2, 2017
Later, the ESPN3 telecast showed Markkanen receiving assistance as he walked off the court. Early reports are that it isn’t serious.
It was a bummer ending to what would have been an otherwise great game for the Bulls 2017 first round draft pick. For a moment, it looked like he was going to be the hero for a second game in a row. With about 40 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Markkanen got a switch on a guard and drove left all the way from the perimeter to the basket to give Finland a 78-77 advantage.
Markkanen's huge layup to give Finland the lead with under a minute pic.twitter.com/jEpTfgI4AO— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) September 2, 2017
Not only did Markkanen pour in ten fourth quarter points on 4-for-5 from the field, but he did this despite attempting shots with crazy-high degrees of difficulty.
Markkanen turnaround baseline J pic.twitter.com/ZwJnd3MwVz— Alexander Chernykh (@chernykh) September 2, 2017
He also finished on a driving layup over two defenders and poured in another fadeaway midrange jumper from the other side of the floor.
In the first half, Markkanen notched 11 points, flashing his sweet 3-point shooting stroke throughout. He was 3-for-3 from this range in the half, and repeatedly slipped out to the perimeter in pick-and-roll situations to give himself open attempts.
Perhaps most impressively Markkanen held his own on defense despite repeatedly getting posted up by Anthony Randolph. In addition, his length in the paint disrupted driving guards and he held his own despite some physical play in the paint.
He also had this nasty block on (future teammate?) Luka Doncic in the first half.
Markkanen just stuffed Doncic. That was fun. pic.twitter.com/86LtTgrmVq— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) September 2, 2017
Elsewhere, Doncic was unspectacular, although Goran Dragic and his 29 points largely dimmed Doncic’s star. Doncic finished with eight points on 3-for-10 from the field (0-for-5 from 3-point land) and eight rebounds and zero assists.
Finland will return to action tomorrow against Poland.