Let us not detract from the abject failure that was authored by the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night. A 64-win team, which just days ago owned a 2-0 series lead over the Dallas Mavericks, got humiliated and outscored by roughly two billion points in Game 7 on their home floor. All there is to say about it is that the Suns played one of the worst basketball games ever, at the worst possible time.
Horrifying performances, even historically bad ones, happen. What makes one truly memorable is who or what was on the other side of it. You can more or less get away with scoring 27 points in the first half of Game 7 if the other team is just as overwhelmed by the moment and plays just as tight. When you’ve got two teams largely failing to perform basic basketball functions, the embarrassment of the situation can at least be shared and diffused. You end up with a rock fight, a defensive struggle, a battle of attrition. But put a player like Luka Doncic on the floor with an opponent pissing down its leg, and you end up with something different: a bully having the time of his life.
Doncic scored 35 points in 30 minutes in Game 7, but his raw point total doesn’t even begin to tell the story of what he did to the Suns. He equalled the Suns’ scoring output in the first half all by himself, 27-27, and he did so while playing with a particular kind of cruelty that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen from an NBA player on such a big stage before. Everyone has seen a star player get demonstrative while putting on a great performance in a playoff game, and all those scowls and yawps are usually interpreted as evidence that the guy is just so locked in right now. Doncic certainly brought plenty of theatrics to his Game 7 stunner, but it felt like he was after something slightly different than most players are when they thump their chest and scream into the crowd. Doncic seemed less concerned with building himself up than he was with tearing the Suns down.
He was just laughing at them. All night. Go ahead and put Doncic’s stinging cackle in the Hall of Memorable Basketball Faces, right next to Jordan’s tongue-wag, Kobe’s scowl, and LeBron’s terminator glare. This one outstrips them all in terms of tangible effect on the game, though. Doncic wasn’t laughing because he was having fun, but because he wanted to hurt the Suns. He wanted them to run and hide, and it worked. For 30 minutes he was Scut Farkus sending terrified children scurrying down a snowy alley. He just kept laughing and they just kept cowering, and the game was over before the third quarter started.
That cruel streak was present in the particulars of how Doncic attacked the Suns’ defense, too. He never passed up an opportunity to isolate and toy with whatever defender was in front of him, or hit a step-back right in someone’s face. At one point, he just decided that he was going to post up Deandre Ayton in the middle of the lane, and of course he hit a shot right on the seven-footer’s head.
There will be a lot of talk in the coming days about how Luka Doncic has Officially Arrived As A Superstar Player In This League, and all of it will be accurate. Stars are largely defined by their signature moments, and Doncic just got himself a big one. I’m glad to see this happen for Doncic, but I am equally pleased to see him going through this evolutionary step in his own particular way. The league has enough stars and wannabe stars who are content to amplify their greatness by copying what they watch other guys do on TV [stares at Donovan Mitchell for 37 uninterrupted seconds]. Doncic is doing his own thing, though. He’s becoming nastier, meaner, and more annoying with each passing day. I don’t know if the league was necessarily crying out for a supervillain, but one has arrived. Luka Doncic is here to hurt people, and he’s succeeding.