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Luka Doncic Is Going It Alone

Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks reacts on the court during the second half of Game One of the Western Conference Second Round NBA Playoffs against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center on May 02, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Mavericks 121-114.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If you want an in-depth, even granular analysis of Luka Doncic’s night in Phoenix last night, here it is: He is Nikola Jokic, and Nikola Jokic is him.

Not because they are both white, or both Slavic, but because they are both sensationally alone. Jokic was the only thing that kept the Denver Nuggets from losing to the Golden State Warriors in three games, and Doncic, as we expected, looks like the only thing that will keep the Dallas Mavericks from losing to the Suns in two. As it turns out, they will both lead their teams to five-game series losses because that is the true nature of the seven-game series—a rout is five, a battle to the death is six. Nobody does 4–0 or 4–3 any more. It’s apparently gauche.

But Doncic’s 45-point performance, which was so thorough that his coach Jason Kidd said witheringly, “We’ve just got to get someone to join the party,” is the sort of thing you should expect to see again in this series, the way Jokic did with the Warriors. Jokic spent the entire series as the last man standing, just as Doncic did with his 45–12–8 last night. True, he had five of Dallas’s eight turnovers, but that will happen when you play 44 minutes and have the ball all the time. This isn’t the most efficient way to win a game; in fact, it is essentially a failure by its very construction.

But while the Nuggets’ one-man show is doomed at the ground floor, it is also a better alternative than not-Doncic. At least unless Kidd is correct and there are other Mavericks available. That’s what Michael Malone thought, but other than Game 4, probably the one game the Mavs will also win, and Game 5, which was close but ultimately not there for them, the Nuggets ended up doing what Dallas is facing now: playing Doncic until he weighs not 280 pounds, or even 250, but 220.

While it is a fool’s errand to assume all games in a series will play out the same way, it is hard to imagine a viable alternative for the Mavs. They got Kristaps Porzingis to avoid such an eventuality but that became a disaster and the Mavs moved on to what they have now—Doncic with a side of Doncic, which isn’t nearly nourishing enough to make this series thrive.

We will have to cast our hopes for entertainment upon Warriors-Grizzlies, which has something this Suns-Nuggets series does not: lots of options on both teams, and therefore, we hope, lots of games. These other series are looking a bit grim so far, so Golden State’s six-guard lineup and Memphis’ too-young-to-know-what-they-don’t-know exuberance is going to have to save us from second round disappointment, the way Memphis-Minnesota was the payoff in an otherwise desultory first round.

We live in abandoned hope, though, because gravity gets everyone in the end. No matter what Doncic plans for Games 2 through 5.

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