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Luka Doncic Embarrassed Himself

DALLAS, TEXAS - JUNE 12: Luka Dončić #77 of the Dallas Mavericks looks on in the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics in Game Three 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 and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images)
Tim Heitman/Getty Images

The Celtics have all but sealed the championship, and they did so in Game 3 by showing incredible composure. Crediting a team for what they did after surrendering a 22-2 run in the fourth quarter of a Finals game feels faintly like getting the Mary Todd Lincoln post-play report, yet I was impressed with the way the Celtics took Dallas's best punch, calmly regained their equilibrium, and ran their shit until Dallas crumbled. Perhaps Boston's composure stands out when contrasted with Luka Doncic, whose mounting frustration finally boiled over.

Doncic shot 11-for-27 on his way to 27-6-6, a respectable stat line the Celtics have to have been thrilled with, as their scheme revolves around cutting off every possible escape route and forcing Doncic and Kyrie Irving to take turns trying to go one-on-one against a stable of All-Defense-caliber dudes. Getting bottled up over and over again by Derrick White or Jaylen Brown is clearly a demanding way to play, especially when the Mavs' ball-handlers then have to run back down the floor and get blended into every defensive action. Doncic's team has barely scored a single easy bucket in the series; meanwhile, he kept falling over trying to bait fouls and allowing straightforward, open shots like this Sam Hauser three-pointer.

The very next play, Doncic did it again. When he was not falling down, he was standing there and letting his man run by him for an inexplicably open shot. When he was engaged, he was fouling. Doncic ended the Mavs' comeback right as they were on the cusp of taking the lead by fouling out for the first time in his playoff career. Four of his six fouls came in a five-minute stretch while the Mavs were making their run, and most of his fouls were simple, stupid ones: someone got past him or had position on him, and he lunged in or stood by as an opponent worked their advantage. He fouled out with 4:12 left, begged for a challenge, and sulked to the bench as Irving used his big moment to take ill-fated fallaway threes against Al Horford.

When Tim McMahon asked Doncic about the fouls after the game, he smirked, shrugged, and said, "We couldn’t play physical. I don’t want to say nothing. You know, six fouls in the NBA Finals, basically I’m like this [hands-out motion]. C’mon, man. Better than that."

Wrong! Your team was fighting for its life, and you whined them out of the game. Even when Doncic is at his imperious best, he engages with the officiating corps as if they're the true audience for his performance, turning to the closest referee after every made bucket to scowl, or pantomime the motion of a foul, or simply stare ruddily at them. His little rascal act is always annoying to watch, though I've rarely seen it cost his team as clearly as it did last night.

I've also rarely seen ESPN's Brian Windhorst so offended. He did two separate SportsCenter hits excoriating Doncic for his performance, one with Zubin Mehenti, then a second with Scott Van Pelt.

None of this is easy for Doncic, who is banged up to the point that he keeps getting injections in order to play through the pain. That sucks, but it's also what playing in the Finals is—surviving the agonizing grind of three playoff series and meeting the moment. Throwing a tantrum so big that it prompts Brian Windhorst to unload the clip is the opposite of that.

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