Angry, ruthless and special: Dallas Mavericks star Luka Dončić does it his way against the Phoenix Suns
An inspired Luka Dončić put the Mavs on his back as he carried them to an incredible series victory over the Suns and left everyone wondering just how good he can be.
Forget the words Luka Dončić utters in his press conferences. Ignore the frequent cheeky smiles issued to referees, opponents, teammates and fans — and maybe even you, if you catch him at the right moment.
Put aside the popular image of a happy-go-lucky youngster with a humorous side and an “I-play-for-fun” vibe. Not that it’s untrue, it’s just not the most important thing.
Forget it because there is another side to the Dallas Mavericks star, aka the most exciting player in modern basketball, aka Luka Legend, aka the second coming of Larry Bird, and, far more importantly, the first coming of Luka Dončić.
And it is that other side that has shaken up these NBA playoffs and maybe the destiny of this year’s title. That side has given the Golden State Warriors plenty to think about ahead of the Western Conference finals. That side has everyone wondering just how good Dončić, 23, can become if the bear is poked hard enough, in the right way, over the years to come.
Let’s go back a moment and make one thing clear. It is possible, of course, that the Phoenix Suns might still have lost their West semi-final series against Dončić’s Mavs, even if the most-backfired piece of trash talk we’ve seen in modern times had not passed Devin Booker’s lips.
In Game 5, as the Suns were cruising to a 3-2 lead, Booker drove to the basket, copped a hard foul, tumbled to the hardwood and flopped around on the floor for several seconds. Before he rose to his feet, he turned to the bank of camera phones at the baseline and out tumbled a snippet of snark.
“Luka Special,” Booker said, a direct and unmistakeable dig at Dončić, who has been accused of being flop-happy on more than one occasion.
Hindsight has unfair clarity, but it sure seems like it was the turning point. Of the series, maybe of the playoffs — who knows? — maybe even of Dončić’s career. Once poked, the aforementioned bear didn’t grumble slowly into action, he transformed into a monster.
The real Luka Special didn’t turn out to be a copycat flop, but a pair of epic performances that reversed the momentum of the series and crushed Phoenix’s soul. In Game 6, Dončić poured in 33 points and snared 11 boards, but that was just the warm-up.
On Sunday, a blistering first-half performance turned the night into the most anticlimactic Game 7 imaginable. By the time the half rolled around, the Suns had scored 27, Dončić had scored 27, the lead was 30 and the deal was done.
“I like it when people trash talk me,” Dončić said. You think?
Make no mistake, there is a brutal ruthlessness that lies within Dončić, the kind of steely mindedness and singularity that all the greats have. Sure, he smiles, but irk him, and he’ll have no qualms about doling out humiliation. And he’ll enjoy it, too.
Think he felt a tinge of sympathy for Booker, Chris Paul, 2018 No. 1 draft pick DeAndre Ayton, or anyone associated with the Suns’ 2-0 meltdown? Think again.
This is Luka Dončić, and he’s not normal. Now, with the biggest challenge to date awaiting, he’s found himself at a point where things are falling into place.
Ahead of the postseason, the biggest concern was that Dallas was too much of a one-man team, overly reliant on their Slovenian dominator and incapable of adapting when he is contained.
But developments have been speedy and have fallen in the Mavericks’ favour. When Dončić was out injured for the opening three games of the Utah Jazz series in the opening round, it provided the first opening for dynamic guard duo Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie to step forward.
Then, when Dončić’s brilliance against Phoenix forced the Suns to fixate upon him, it created space for both Brunson and Dinwiddie to thrive — and they did so. In Game 7, Dinwiddie wound up with 30, Brunson collected 24. Dončić collected 35 before sitting the entire fourth quarter.
The result, the one-man team is now a three-headed beast, albeit with one prong being considerably more scary than its counterparts.
Essentially, Dončić got help. And the assistance has arrived just in time, with a Warriors team loaded with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole eager to end a three-year hiatus from the NBA Finals.
“Who stepped up?” asked Nick Wright on FS1’s ”First Things First.” Who made sure his team won by a combined 60 points in the final two games of the series? Who sent the 64-win defending Western Conference champions home? Luka bleeping Dončić.
“Finally, Luka got a little bit of help and all of a sudden that snarl … He got to break out on these fake tough guys in Phoenix.”
The inner snarl led to a victorious smile, some hugs with his teammates and Dallas icon Dirk Nowitzki, and happiness all around the Mavericks‘ locker room.
Dallas will hope Angry Luka is on display once more against the Warriors. For when he gets mad, it seems, he gets special.
– FOX Sports