Sometime late in the first quarter on Tuesday night, apparently shortly after a 3-pointer from Maxi Kleber gave Dallas a 24-16 lead, playoff Luka mysteriously disappeared.
It’s hard to pinpoint when it happened, because as the Mavericks’ fluidization of Game 5 accelerated to a 30-point loss to Phoenix in the second half, other versions of Luka Doncic meandered around the Footprint Center pitch.
Normal Luke. Better than most Luke. But playoff Luka? phew Even Doncic was at a loss to explain when and why Attack the Paint Luka was body-napped by Passive Luka.
“I’m sure it’s on me,” he said. “It’s on me and I have to attack the paint more.”
With the playoffs eliminated in Game 6 Thursday night, the Mavericks can only hope playoff Luka doesn’t wander through the Arizona desert and reappear at the American Airlines Center before the 8:30 tip.
Doncic’s series averages of 32.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists are comparable to his bubble playoff and 2020-21 postseason numbers, both against the Clippers, but in Games 4 and 5 against the Suns he shot a total of 19 of 48 (39.5%) from the field and 3-of-18 (16.7%) on 3-point attempts.
It’s not just his shooting that fell below playoff Luka’s benchmark in Game 5. After jabbing the Suns with 11 assists in Game 4, 8 of them for 3 points, Doncic managed a season-low two assists in Game 5.
The well-rounded playoff Luka might seem like asking a lot from a 23-year-old, but don’t expect too much from an anointed superstar who looks set to be named a First Team All-NBA for a third straight season, and it was revealed Wednesday given that he finished fifth in MVP voting, one spot behind the Suns’ Devin Booker.
Frankly, as Doncic enters what may be his last game under his four-year, $32 million ($10.1 million this season) rookie contract, the Mavericks need Game 6 production more proportional to his five-year The $211 million deal is next season with a starting salary of $36.6 million.
That’s expected of franchise players. In the last two games, Doncic has given the Mavericks volume but not efficiency. These do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Before Game 5, Mavericks Coach Jason Kidd spoke about Doncic’s 1:10 3-point shooting in Game 4, adding that the fact Dallas won by 10 points shows how far they’ve come as a team.
“And then you also think that he probably won’t shoot like that in the next game,” Kidd added, “but knowing him, he’s going to find that range and go behind the bow.”
Doncic made his first 3-point attempt in Game 5 but missed six of his remaining seven attempts. He made four of his first five field goal attempts and scored 11 of Dallas’ first 21 points, but he missed his last three shots of the quarter.
Early Dallas ball movement reminiscent of Game 4 gave way to stagnation and isolation plays. The Mavericks also didn’t realize they had a hot hand, which the point guard is responsible for.
Dorian Finney-Smith made his first two 3-point attempts to give Dallas a 10-3, 13-7 lead.
Those baskets extended Finney-Smith’s two-game, 3-point shooting run to 10-of-14. Still, he only attempted two shots — a missed three-pointer early in the second quarter and a missed putback with 20 seconds left in the first half — the rest of the half and four shots for the rest of the game.
Dallas’ near-nonexistent ball movement was reflected in his meager nine assists compared to the Suns’ 28.
And the Mavericks’ 12 turnovers in the third quarter alone nearly matched their season average of 12.5 (beginning italics) per game (ending italics). So much for the early 15-9 and 24-16 leads.
“Then I think we relaxed,” said Doncic. “It wasn’t us. It wasn’t ourselves.”
The one-sidedness of Game 5 may seem doomed for some Mavericks fans, but amidst that rubble there was hope.
When Booker equaled 40-40 with 3:53 to go in the first half, it ended a remarkable Dallas stretch that stretched to the start of Game 3. During that 116:07 game, Dallas led 105:20. Not bound. LEDs.
There is every reason to believe Playoff Luka will return for Game 6. Why? Allow Kidd to explain.
“He’s not scared of the stage at 23. You saw that at the Olympic Games. You can see that in the playoffs this year. You saw that in the playoffs last year. That’s a good quality.”
If playoff Luka Dallas can lead to Thursday’s win, the Mavericks just need to make sure he gets on the team plane for the trip back to Phoenix. And make sure playoff Luka starts and finishes game 7 on Sunday.
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