The Clippers had no answers for Mavericks’ Luka Doncic in Game 1, and that’s a big deal
It’s not just that Luka Doncic had an outing of 31 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds in the Mavericks’ 113-103 win over the Clippers on Saturday.
It’s not just that Doncic posted his third triple-double in his seventh career playoff game when no other Dallas player in franchise history has ever recorded.
And it’s not just that Doncic hit those numbers at 22, putting him alongside the greatest of all time in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James.
No it was also How? ‘Or’ What Doncic dissected a Los Angeles team that entered that first-round series knowing the All-Star double would be the focal point of the defensive game plan.
“I think you have to keep [Luka] unbalanced, ”Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said earlier this week (via Clips Nation). “He’s a great passer, a great player, so he’ll set you apart if you blitz him, so you can’t give him a steady diet of the same. We’ve been talking about that all season, just trying to keep the guys going. balance, because any great player, they’re going to be able to adjust.
“They’ve probably seen just about anything you can throw at them. We just need to keep it as off-balance as possible.”
Unfortunately for Lue and the Clippers, Doncic didn’t have to walk a tightrope in Game 1. He looked more like he was out for a weekend walk.
When Ivica Zubac moved on to Doncic, he tortured the tall man with his fancy dribbling moves and footwork. When Patrick Beverley tried to put pressure on Doncic, he intimidated the little guard at the station. Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Marcus Morris? Go ahead and grab a ticket. Luka will be with you in a moment.
And when the Clippers decided to focus on giving Doncic a different look, he chopped them up with one-off passes.
Los Angeles sent Doncic back-to-back doubles towards the end of the game. He was more than happy to wait for the second defender to arrive and then find an open teammate.
“Luka has seen virtually every cover known to mankind – every type of double team, every type of change scenario, change then double team 30 feet from the basket,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after game 1. “So it’s just a matter of getting to the right places when he’s a two-team. He’s obviously very good against changes. He mixed back steps and practice.”
It’s worth noting that the Clippers’ struggles weren’t limited to the Doncic slowdown. They also had a poor shooting game, hitting just 11 of their 40 3-point attempts (27.5%) after leading the NBA with a 3-point percentage during the regular season. George and Leonard combined to pull off 17 of their 40 field goal attempts (3 of 14 from beyond the arc), which is unusual given their usual efficiency levels.
Yet the Doncic problem looms large in this series. He averaged 31.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists in six “bubble” games against the Clippers last year, and he’s off to a good start in those playoffs. With Doncic leading the series and a supporting cast embracing his talent and thriving alongside him, Dallas is far from being a small tune-up for Los Angeles heading into the Western Conference semifinals.
Leonard didn’t seem at all shaken after the loss, saying spirits in the locker room were “always good” and that “nothing good is easy.” It’s nice to hear Leonard and the Clippers take on the challenge – because stopping this version of Doncic is about as difficult as it gets.