COLOGNE, Germany — Late in the first half of the Slovenian national team’s EuroBasket game Wednesday, France appeared to discover the one thing that could slow Luka Doncic’s dominance:
An elbow to the head.
But not even blood trickling from a gash in his hair and halftime stitches kept Doncic from a thrilling performance in Slovenia’s 88-82 victory over France.
Doncic tallied a national team-EuroBasket record 47 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the victory to help Slovenia finish the tournament’s group stage with a 4-1 record and clinch the top seed out of the uber-competitive Group B.
Slovenia, defending 2017 EuroBasket champion, will start the knockout rounds Saturday in Berlin with a Round of 16 matchup against the fourth-place qualifier from Group A. The top placement in Group B ensured Slovenia will not face fellow medal favorites Serbia (with Nikola Jokic) until the semifinals or Greece (with Giannis Antetokounmpo) until the medal rounds, at the earliest.
Doncic — battered but bold as ever — is the reason why.
“He is our Wonder Boy,” guard Zoran Dragic said, “and I am happy he is Slovenian.”
Throughout the first half Wednesday, Doncic drained bucket after bucket, 3 after 3 to look just as rhythmic and dynamic as he did less than one full day earlier in a 36-point, 10-rebound beatdown on previously undefeated host Germany.
The 23-year-old even drained a one-footed, 3-point floater from the corner over NBA defensive stalwart Rudy Gobert that elicited a collective gasp from the Lanxess Arena crowd.
And, internally, from teammate Vlatko Cancar.
“When I saw that,” the Denver Nuggets forward said, “I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s going to be a long night for France.' ”
Though on the second night of a back-to-back, Doncic played the first 19 minutes without rest — until he jumped up for a loose ball with 38 seconds remaining and took a blow to the head from France forward Vincent Poirier’s arm.
The Mavericks superstar immediately fell to the court, holding his head with both arms while curled up in pain. He checked for bleeding before standing.
He walked down the court as officials reviewed for unsportsmanlike conduct, and lay back down near Slovenia’s basket before play resumed.
After trainers tended to him with towels to clean the blood streaming down his head, Doncic walked off to the locker room.
Apprehension mounted when Doncic didn’t return to the court with Slovenia for second-half warm-ups about 15 minutes later.
“We were afraid how he’d continue,” Slovenia forward Edo Muric said.
Already hampered this week with right wrist pain that he said in a Slovenian interview has hindered his shooting rhythm, Doncic can add stitches in his head and an issue with his left hand that required taping two fingers together in the second half to the list of ailments he’ll nurse during Slovenia’s two-day break for travel to Berlin.
But he didn’t appear concerned about injury or fatigue on the second night of a back-to-back during the game’s riveting finish.
After France used a late run to erase Slovenia’s double-digit lead and tie the score at 82 with about two minutes remaining, veteran guard Goran Dragic restored Slovenia’s advantage with a steal-and-score at the 1:20 mark, Doncic secured the rebound on France’s ensuing shot attempt, and Cancar cushioned the victory with a jumper in the final minute.
“It’s not easy,” Dragic said. “But at the same time, if you want to win a gold medal, or a medal, you have to sacrifice for every possession.”
Some context for what made Doncic’s performance particularly impressive and meaningful:
— FIBA games are eight minutes shorter than the NBA, but Doncic had tallied more than 47 points just twice in his five years with the Mavericks — a career-high 51 on Feb. 10 against the Los Angeles Clippers and 49 on Feb. 17 against the New Orleans Pelicans.
— Doncic logged the highest-scoring EuroBasket performance in the last 65 years without his go-to pick-and-roll partner, Mike Tobey, who sat out with an ankle injury.
— He and Gobert have developed a chippy rivalry in the NBA — and each drew technical foul Wednesday — but Doncic prevailed, again, in their first head-to-head meeting since the Mavericks’ first-round playoff win over the Utah Jazz.
— Slovenia came one buzzer-beating block from beating France in the Olympic semifinals last summer, and though this group-stage finale didn’t guarantee medal redemption, Doncic still flexed, shouted and tossed the ball into the stands at the buzzer to show just how much the victory meant.
“Every game, he’s played like it’s the final,” Muric said. “When he starts smiling, then you know that you’re in trouble.”