Great players take it upon themselves to make things happen. Time and time again, Luka Doncic has answered that bell.
The odds were stacked against Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks after they advanced past the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs to face the vaunted Phoenix Suns. Last year’s Western Conference Finalist entered this series as the top seed and even took a 2-0 series lead against the Mavericks despite a hobbling Devin Booker.
Yet all of that didn’t matter as Doncic led Dallas to their fifth conference finals appearance and closed things up with a masterful performance in Game 7.
At halftime, Doncic had as many points (27) as the Suns themselves and easily outscored the duo of Booker and Chris Paul, 27-3. He easily had his way against whoever was defending him, smiling as he was scoring his way to the conference finals. The three-time All-Star sat out the fourth quarter as his job was done well before that and the video team in charge of putting up his highlight package should thank him for their early night tonight.
Doncic had help in the form of Spencer Dinwiddie (playoff career-high 30 points off the bench) and Jalen Brunson (24 points, 22 in the second half), but all things clearly ran through the Slovenian. His torrid scoring forced Phoenix’s defense to adjust accordingly, and the likes of Dinwiddie and Brunson took advantage of the ensuing openings and mismatches.
Through the first six games, Doncic shot above 50 percent from the field in Games 1 and 2, which both ended in losses for the Mavericks. Dallas would go 3-1 to force a winner-take-all Game 7 despite him shooting 41.1 percent from the field. The 23-year-old was due for a “breakout” game and it came at no better time than in Game 7, where he made 63 percent of his field goal attempts and needed only 30 minutes to score a game-high 35 points.
Doncic’s shot was clearly falling, but much of his success can be attributed to his approach in Game 7. The two-time All-NBA Selection’s weapon of choice has always been the pick-and-roll where he can get mismatches and break down a defense bit-by-bit. This creates easy baskets for his teammates, but let’s not forget the scoring opportunities it also creates for him.
The Mavericks’ next opponent, the Golden State Warriors, will offer a different look both offensively and defensively. Dallas may have won the regular season series 3-1, but things are markedly different since their last game on March 3, a contest the Mavericks won by nine points.
Doncic will be challenged on both ends of the floor as he may have to chase the Warriors’ perimeter players while also likely being guarded by Draymond Green at some point in the series. It may sound like the same narrative again, but the adjustments Golden State made against the Memphis Grizzlies speak of how they will take on a more tailored approach towards Doncic.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Western Conference Finals goes the distance as Doncic will hunt for mismatches and set his teammates up when he finds them in a favorable matchup. Experience can do that, especially since Doncic has been playing professional basketball since he was 16 years old. That he dominated in Europe even as a teenager has him remaining unfazed even against the best teams in the NBA, where the rules have had him seeing blood in the water.
What’s a challenge but an opportunity to rise? That was certainly the mindset Luka Doncic has had in these NBA Playoffs and one he exemplified in eliminating the Phoenix Suns in Game 7. Doncic’s story in this postseason continues to be written and when it’s all said and done, it will likely be the stuff of legends.