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 celebrity fulfilling his future by going toe-to-toe with the NBA’s prime seed and greatest group on the street, 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 irrespective of who they threw at him. He dragged Chris Paul within the put up and hit brief turnaround jumpers over him. He drained a three-pointer when Mikal Bridges went beneath an early display screen, and stepped into triples with ease when Phoenix tried to modify 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 taking pictures from the sphere and 4-of-7 taking pictures from three — confirmed simply how marvelous this efficiency was changing into.
Perhaps 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 truly going to tie this collection 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 will put on him down at each ends.
It labored. Phoenix ran away with a 129-109 victory to safe a 2-0 collection lead. Doncic ended the night time with 35 factors on 59 p.c taking pictures, however his lack of ability to carry his personal defensively helped doom Dallas on the night time.
The Suns went at Luka again and again and again and again all through the second half to the purpose the place it was nearly painful to observe. Listed here are some clips from the third quarter.
Typically the Suns had one among 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 screen, understanding Dallas would going to modify the motion and that Luka can be too sluggish to get better. If Doncic was on an island, Phoenix knew any of their ball handlers would breeze by him, power 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 in regards to the plan to focus on Doncic defensively within the second half, they may barely include their grins.
The NBA playoffs typically devolve right into a recreation of selecting on the weakest defender on the ground. The Suns are significantly suited to play that method as a result of they’ve one of many biggest and smartest and best level guards ever in Paul and one other celebrity shot-maker in Devin Booker. Across the two backcourt stars, Phoenix all the time has two shooters and a bodily imposing play finisher at middle. There is no such thing as a spot on the ground protected towards the Suns, and Doncic is studying that lesson the arduous method.
Doncic most likely isn’t at one hundred pc health-wise after struggling a calf harm within the final recreation of the common season. He spent this yr taking part in himself into form, however his conditioning might 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 relation to pace. His protection graded out as nearly common throughout the common 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 identified, Dwight Powell has been a non-factor on this collection at middle. Dallas is basically solely happening runs once they play small.
Greater than something, it’s essential to keep in mind that Luka is simply 23 years outdated. He has time to fail and be taught from these failures like each nice NBA star in historical past has performed. 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 actually matter. However in basketball, you need to play each ends of the court docket, and if you happen to don’t the opposite group might be going to discover a solution to make the most of that.
If Doncic doesn’t get higher and fitter, he dangers a part of his repute 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 will likely be the primary signal of his largest burden, or the place to begin of his largest transformation.