Luka Doncic had already established himself as the primary character of Recreation 2 by the point it hit halftime within the Dallas Mavericks’ second spherical matchup with the Phoenix Suns within the 2022 NBA Playoffs. Right here was the 23-year-old famous person fulfilling his future by going toe-to-toe with the NBA’s prime seed and finest crew on the highway, nearly single-handedly giving his undermanned Mavs a slight lead going into the break because of a totally loaded show of his prodigious offensive ability.
Doncic was giving the Suns buckets regardless of who they threw at him. He dragged Chris Paul within the publish and hit quick turnaround jumpers over him. He drained a three-pointer when Mikal Bridges went below an early display, and stepped into triples with ease when Phoenix tried to change an enormous man onto him. He cooked Devin Booker off the dribble for a easy righty layup, and used his large 230-pound body to ship two blows to Cameron Johnson earlier than ending by means of him for an and-one. Doncic’s halftime numbers — 24 factors on 9-of-14 capturing from the sector and 4-of-7 capturing from three — confirmed simply how marvelous this efficiency was changing into.
Possibly Dallas ought to have been extra involved that such an electrical half from Doncic solely resulted in a two-point lead. The Suns have been conscious that it felt like Luka was going to have to hold the Mavs throughout the end line in the event that they have been really going to tie this sequence with a win and steal homecourt benefit. Phoenix got here out of the halftime locker room with a transparent plan: assault Doncic defensively at each alternative in hopes that it might put on him down at each ends.
It labored. Phoenix ran away with a 129-109 victory to safe a 2-0 sequence lead. Doncic ended the night time with 35 factors on 59 p.c capturing, however his incapability to carry his personal defensively helped doom Dallas on the night time.
The Suns went at Luka over and over and over and over all through the second half to the purpose the place it was nearly painful to look at. Listed below are some clips from the third quarter.
Generally the Suns had one in every of their star guards drag Doncic out of the perimeter after which blow by him for a straightforward bucket or free throws. More often than not that they had Doncic’s man set a ball display, understanding Dallas would going to change the motion and that Luka can be too gradual to get well. If Doncic was on an island, Phoenix knew any of their ball handlers would breeze by him, drive the Mavs protection into rotation, after which discover the open man for a layup.
The Suns continued doing it within the fourth quarter till Dallas mercifully pulled its starters and conceded the sport.
When Booker and Paul have been requested concerning the plan to focus on Doncic defensively within the second half, they might barely include their grins.
The NBA playoffs typically devolve right into a sport of selecting on the weakest defender on the ground. The Suns are notably suited to play that method as a result of they’ve one of many best and smartest and best level guards ever in Paul and one other famous person shot-maker in Devin Booker. Across the two backcourt stars, Phoenix all the time has two shooters and a bodily imposing play finisher at heart. There isn’t a spot on the ground protected towards the Suns, and Doncic is studying that lesson the arduous method.
Doncic most likely isn’t at 100% health-wise after struggling a calf damage within the final sport of the common season. He spent this 12 months enjoying himself into form, however his conditioning may nonetheless be improved. There are many bodily instruments to work with defensively with an enormous body and fast arms even when Doncic won’t ever be a burner in terms of pace. His protection graded out as just about average during the regular season by trusted all-in-one stat EPM, and the Mavericks shocked the league to complete No. 6 in defensive effectivity.
The Mavericks produce other issues past Luka’s protection. As Mavs Moneyball expertly pointed out, Dwight Powell has been a non-factor on this sequence at heart. Dallas is basically solely occurring runs once they play small.
Greater than something, it’s essential to keep in mind that Luka is simply 23 years previous. He has time to fail and be taught from these failures like each nice NBA star in historical past has achieved. Recreation 2 confirmed a roadmap of the place Luka must be higher. It gained’t be an in a single day course of, however there are attainable areas of enchancment for him to develop into over time.
Luka has been a bonafide postseason stud since his first playoff run. Nobody ought to doubt that Luka Ball can work when the video games really matter. However in basketball, it’s a must to play each ends of the court docket, and if you happen to don’t the opposite crew might be going to discover a strategy to reap the benefits of that.
If Doncic doesn’t get higher and fitter, he dangers a part of his status being tied to getting smoked on protection the way in which he did in Recreation 2. Once we look again at this second in his profession years from now, it is going to be the primary signal of his greatest burden, or the place to begin of his greatest transformation.