The Los Angeles Clippers made a bold decision at the end of the season, purposely losing games against the Rockets and Thunder to drop to the fourth seed in the Western Conference to avoid the Lakers until the conference finals. However, it seems as if Ty Lue and the Clippers made a grave mistake because they matched up with the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, and if there’s one thing NBA teams shouldn’t do, it is to give other teams bulletin board material to have extra motivation for a playoff series. Especially don’t do it when the team you are matching up against has arguably a top-five player in the league in Luka Doncic. The Mavs have a 2-0 series advantage and are going back to Dallas to play in front of a 15,000 person crowd that will be going crazy for Luka’s first-ever playoff game in Dallas.
Luka is only 22-years old and in his third season, so most people wrote off the Mavs in this playoffs, saying it was too early for Luka to breakthrough. But a common theme among future superstars is that they exceed playoff expectations early in their careers.
A few examples are LeBron in 2007 when he was just 22 and led a terrible Cavaliers team to the NBA finals and single-handedly beat the Pistons in the East Finals, Kobe when he was 22 and averaged 30 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists and led the Lakers, along with Shaq, to a 2001 finals victory, and finally Magic Johnson in 1982 when he nearly averaged a triple-double as a 22-year old and led the showtime Lakers to an NBA title. Luka may be making history before our eyes, as the West seems like it could be won by anyone, with the Lakers looking a bit shaky this post-season after dropping game one to the Suns.
Luka is putting his stamp on this series in the first two games. In game one, he had a 31-point triple-double, becoming the youngest ever player to record a triple-double on the road in a playoff game. In-game two he then had 39, 7, and 7 on the way to taking a 2-0 series lead on the Clippers.
The Clips are a hated team around the league due to their high expectations, and disappointing results the past two seasons, but one player contributes more to the hatred than the rest. Patrick Beverly is considered a pitbull by some who plays smothering defense, and although he is a good defender, he is mostly just annoying, and when watching him play in person, it is no shock how he gets under people’s skin. He is constantly flailing his body around on the court and the majority of his time between and after the whistle is spent complaining to the referees about whatever he can.
Luka is not one to back down from a challenge though, and can always be seen getting into it with people after the whistle, and talking his trash. In game one, the Mavericks were signaling out Pat Bev on defense and doing whatever they could do to get him switched onto Luka. And when they would get the switch, Luka would just overpower the smaller Beverly, and on one certain possession, he got him in the post and overpowered him for an and-one and audibly yelled “You’re too f***ing small!” I think Beverly heard it but he was too busy going over and complaining to the refs to acknowledge it. This may have bothered Luka because in game two in a similar situation, he overpowered Beverly again and this time opted for yelling “You’re too f***ing little!” and then the next time down the court he got another layup on Bev, and told him down the court how he was too little for him.
This is the type of competitiveness that the great ones show, never backing down from any challenge and making those stupid enough to trash talk them pay for it. In game two the Clips threw Kawhi at Luka on more possessions, and even tho Kawhi is one of, if not the best defender in the league, he could only just slow down Luka.
Luka added another shot to his arsenal in game two that if perfected, could break the NBA. He took and drilled a euro-step three-pointer in the middle of the shot clock. This was a classic shot that had Rick Carlisle going “No! No! Yes!!!”
Luka is such a joy to watch because of the control he has over the game and that there is truly no way to stop him. If you leave him one on one, he is too big for most guards and too quick and crafty for most forwards and centers. Then if you bring a double team, he will make the right read and rifle a pass to the uncovered man. It is a pick your poison with the Mavericks, and if the role-players like Tim Hardaway and Maxi Kleber can keep hitting shots and Kristaps Porzingis can put up 20 a night, we may see Luka break onto the scene and cement himself as a perennial superstar for the next ten plus years.