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2024 NBA Finals: The elephant in the room – Luka Doncic’s defense isn’t good enough for the Mavs to win the title

2024 NBA Finals: The elephant in the room – Luka Doncic’s defense isn’t good enough for the Mavs to win the title

DALLAS — For such a copycat league, NBA teams use different terms for the same concepts. When a player is traded, understanding the rules of a new game is much like learning a new language, or another dialect, for the same actions and ideas that his previous employer described differently. The playoffs, for example, are full of All-Stars calling for ball screens, forcing a switch of defenders, allowing the playmaker to isolate against his preferred matchup. The Mavericks are calling this “elephant hunting,” as the Western Conference champions have routinely found perfect opponents for Luka Doncic or Kyrie Irving to ambush the Islanders over the first three rounds of this season.

One of those victims was Rudy Gobert, the “elephant” Doncic caught at the end of Game 2 in Minnesota. And with the NBA Finals back in Dallas, with the Mavericks facing the same 2-0 deficit that Doncic’s dagger sank the Timberwolves into, Dallas was sure to prioritize picking up some Celtics defenders in all the pick-and-rolls around Doncic and Irving. And evasion.

DALLAS, TX - JUNE 12: Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts in the third quarter against the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the 2024 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center on June 12, 2024 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading or using this image, user agrees to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Tim Hittman/Getty Images)

“We were trying to put Al Horford in it, and any other elephants, and try to get the mismatches,” Mavericks quarterback Derek Lively II said Wednesday night after Boston’s 106-99 win that put the Celtics up 3-0 and within one short. From the franchise’s eighteenth championship. “Get the space and get the shots we like.”

These elephants could also be the smallest members of Boston’s deep roster. “When you have Luka facing Payton Pritchard or… [Derrick] “We’re very happy about it. White is in the position, and someone else is in the position, we feel good about it,” Irving said.

The biggest problem facing Dallas, the elephant in the American Airlines Center, is that Doncic represents that very target for Boston’s ballhandlers. For all his talents, despite his wizardry in orchestrating the Mavericks’ offense, his never-looking-back bowls and his three-pointers, Dončić lacks the foot speed and awareness of many of the defensive possessions that opened the floodgates for the Celtics’ stable. Of the scorers. He’s tested the limits of what one-sided NBA brilliance can accomplish, and now Dallas is failing his toughest test. His final two fouls in the fourth quarter on Wednesday night, the fifth and sixth that ruled him out of a postseason game for the first time in his playoff career, came because Doncic couldn’t keep Jaylen Brown in front of him twice in a 26-second span. “Yeah, he definitely has a bull’s eye on his chest,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said of Doncic.

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There were enough instances in Sunday’s second game — where Doncic’s man was upset by his lackluster attitude, lost the NBA star in space, and unsure which Celtic should guard him — 73 second spotlight compilation. Throughout Game 3, Dončić was once again targeted and manipulated by Brown, Jayson Tatum, White and whoever else the 6-foot-7 guard ended up tagging. “They put him in every pick and ISO,” Kidd said. The Celtics have also been adept at forcing Doncic to fight through off-ball screens, while convincing smaller defenders, like Irving, to stand guard under the rim, so when Boston’s drivers dance in front of Doncic, there is little resistance in goal. Basket.

“When you have those guys in the back making decisions, playing high IQ, they’re going to make you pay for your mistakes,” Irving said.

Dončić handles one of the biggest offensive loads in the league. He pulled out a leg and a bad knee against the Los Angeles Clippers, before adding a sprained ankle to his medical chart in the Mavericks’ second-round win over Oklahoma City. Dončić was then listed as questionable before Game 2 in Boston due to a “pectoral contusion,” a chest contusion. According to ESPN, requires a painkilling injection for Dončić to play. The Mavericks were plus-9 in minutes when Dončić was on the floor Wednesday in a game in which Dallas was down by just 7 points. However, he was resigned to watching the final game of the competition at 4:12 from the touchline with those six fouls, while his complaints about the officiating continued throughout the evening and during his new post-match conference.

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When asked by Yahoo Sports about his perspective on being the elephant that Boston hunts, and what responsibility Dončić could have for his defensive shortcomings, he again pointed to the whistles before acknowledging his responsibility. “Every time they draw, [the officials] “It’s basically a foul,” Doncic said. “I’m trying to be better. So, you have to get better.” When asked later about the fouls committed against him in the fourth period, Dončić deflected from his role in the matter. “We couldn’t play physical. I don’t know. I don’t want to say anything. You know, six fouls in the NBA Finals, basically I’m like this…” Doncic gestured with the palm of his hand. “Come on, man. Be better than that.”

He has proven he can stand up when he’s excited to shuffle his feet. Dončić stayed with Brown on the left wing at the end of the Game 2 comeback attempt to force a decisive stop. He stymied White early in Game 3. But there it is More examples From Dončić stranded in no man’s land, too far away from the competition in the closing, his head and body turned to allow the vulnerable cutters free passes to the edge. Boston doesn’t plan to let him off the hook anytime soon, either. “I don’t think he feels fatigued,” Boston coach Joe Mazzola said. “He looks very fresh out there. I think we can do a better job of being intentional and spacing out at times, but I don’t see him getting tired at all.

This series may have marked an inflection point in Dončić’s development. The Celtics have certainly swallowed their lumps and learned lessons from falling to Golden State in the Finals two years ago, then falling 3-0 to Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals last spring. Doncic is just 25 years old, and has led the Mavericks to two Western Conference Finals in three years and to this championship stage, with a young roster without much playoff experience, with the exception of Irving. Lively is just a 20-year-old rookie. Trade deadline acquisition PJ Washington had never made it to the postseason until this particular round. Daniel Gafford saw just five playoff games with the Wizards in 2021.

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However, these weaknesses to the Dallas franchise are nothing new. They follow him into FIBA ​​play, where Donjic was sent off in Slovenia’s World Cup quarterfinal against Canada last September, thanks to two technical fouls. Dončić might have been available for the latter part of Game 3 had he not forced his way to a ridiculous foul early in the third quarter, 90 feet from the Mavericks’ basket, Out of frustration over not calling him. He picked off Pritchard in front of the full court, only to be called for another foul. For Dallas to avoid a sweep, and for Dallas to do better the next time it reaches the Finals — if there is a next time in the current landscape of this league, where nothing is guaranteed — Doncic’s defense and approach to everything that entails may be the biggest remaining hurdles. To climb it.

“It’s not the first time a team has tried to target Luka defensively,” Irving said. “So for us, we’re just trying to put a great defense around not only him, but the rest of the team.

“He needs to be able to guard and understand that we are there to protect him and help him if he gets hit,” Kidd said.