On August 17th 2020, Luka Doncic played his first NBA Playoff game. It was a remarkable achievement that the 21 year old had managed to lead his team to the playoffs in only his second year in the league, but now was the truest test.
In the NBA, players are often judged and valued by how they perform in the Playoffs, especially in the NBA Finals. Doncic would be playing under the brightest lights he ever had before, but he’s no stranger to big games. He had played in multiple European professional leagues since he was only 13 years old, even qualifying for the Euroleague All-Decade Team.
Despite his experience, many doubted he was ready for the exposure of the NBA Playoffs, and in the first few minutes of the first quarter, it looked as if they were right.
Just six minutes into the first quarter, Doncic had already turned the ball over five times. This allowed the Clippers to start the game with an 18-2 run. Far worse than Los Angeles’s hot start, Doncic appeared to injure his ankle early into the frame while falling to the floor. He checked out of the game and went into the locker room near the seven minute mark with his team down 11, causing many to wait anxiously for an update.
Even though Doncic was only out of the game for a little over four minutes, the Mavericks went on a 15-4 to tie the game by the time he checked back in. Doncic made a couple of free throws and then a step back three pointer in the closing seconds of the first quarter. Despite his absence, he ended the quarter as the game’s leading scorer. But most importantly, his health was at the front of all of our minds.
The second quarter started in the most surprising fashion. The Mavericks erupted on offense, continuing on a remarkable 48-18 run and building a 14 point lead. That run was pioneered by Doncic who had eight points and three assists in the second quarter.
Doncic was only able to score one basket in the second half before his teammate Kristaps Porzingis was questionably ejected. Now, with the team’s second leading scorer gone, Doncic had an increased weight on his shoulders. He exploded in defensive-heavy the third quarter and was responsible for all 13 of Dallas’ points in the quarter, scoring 11 of them himself. The lack of offensive production allowed the Clippers to enter the final 12 minutes with a five point lead.
Doncic did everything he could to keep the Mavericks in the game, even bringing it within four points just under the three minute mark. Despite scoring 12 points, his team was never able to lead in the fourth quarter and Dallas had lost Game One of the series 110-118.
It was a frustrating loss, but far from disappointing, especially when you consider Doncic’s performance. With 42 points in the game, he shattered the NBA record for most points in a playoff debut, a record that John Williamson had held since 1979. Dirk Nowitzki was a third-year player and 22 years old when he made his playoff debut, scoring 20 points against the Utah Jazz.
It’s clear just how ahead of schedule Doncic is and how far he has exceeded the expectations. But for him, this was not the performance he was hoping for. Doncic described his first playoff game as “terrible”, citing his career-high 11 turnovers as an issue.
He’s right, the turnovers were an issue. Doncic is typically able to overcome the fourth highest turnovers per game average with his explosive offense, but the Mavericks 22 turnovers turned into 13 Clippers’ points. But it’s important to remember the factors that could’ve led to those turnover. Doncic was clearly not fully healthy, it was his first NBA playoff game ever, and it’s only game one against possibly the most difficult defense for the Mavericks to exploit.
We have spent two years watching Luka Doncic do things on the basketball court that had never been done before. Now, in front no fans but in the eyes of the entire of world, fans everywhere will have the chance to see just how special of a player he is. Some will choose to focus on the 11 turnovers, but we will highlight his record-breaking performance. Doncic proved just how special of a player he is, and why you should never underestimate a great player. Don’t be surprised if Doncic is able to lead his team to a couple of wins in the series.