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Luka Doncic’s defense hits shameful levels with Mavericks on brink of being swept by Celtics

Written by on June 13, 2024

Luka Doncic fouled out of the Dallas Mavericks‘ Game 3 loss to the Boston Celtics with 4:12 remaining in the fourth quarter, and he did so in the most ironic fashion. 

By actually trying to play defense. 

The Mavericks were in the middle of what proved to be a futile comeback from down 21, when Doncic tried to slide in front of Jaylen Brown in the open floor for a charge. He didn’t get set in time. The whistle blew. It went to replay and was upheld. Doncic was gone. And the Mavericks, who were trailing by just three at that point, went on to lose 106-99. Now, Boston now holds a 3-0 series lead. 

That’s a very close call, and it wouldn’t have been surprising if it had been overturned given the magnitude of fouling out the Mavericks’ best player at that point of such a critical game. Again, I just can’t help but chuckle at the irony of Doncic making one of his few efforts to stay in front of a ball handler during this series and getting the hook for it. 

That’s some hilarious karma — because in no world does Doncic deserve the defensive benefit of the doubt with the way he’s played against Boston. To say he’s been embarrassing defensively in this series would be an understatement. 

I spent most of Wednesday afternoon going through film of the first two games and there were so many examples of Doncic’s disastrous defense to edit that I started looked around the site formerly know as Twitter to see if I could trim my workload. 

Many thanks to @CelticsUnite18:

Honestly, look at that defense. He is roaming around out there like the kid you put in right field in Little League who just picks daisies all game. All told, Doncic was “blown by” 13 times in Game 2, which goes down as the most surrendered in a single game by a single defender in the last 10 postseasons, per ESPN

It is one thing to be outmatched defensively. Doncic has slow feet and lateral movement is not a strength of his. That he’s getting hunted by Boston and beat off the dribble is not surprising. On the other end, Doncic, in fact, has been consistently beating Jayson Tatum off the dribble, but Tatum is in the picture. He’s trying. 

Whatever Doncic is doing, it isn’t even in the same universe as trying. There are players who play defense and players who wait to play offense, and Doncic is a disinterested portrait of the latter. It’s one thing to slough off in January, but in the NBA Finals? It’s ridiculous. And I don’t want to hear a word about this sternum injury. He’s been fine to give everything he has offensively. Not surprisingly. 

Now, Doncic has never been a good defender, particularly at the point of attack, despite the overreaching efforts of many to suggest how far he’s come. Whatever improvements he’s made over the last few years have been dramatized by overzealous supporters eager to point out that a zero level defender now sometimes plays at a two or three. You can go from a 10% to a 30% in chemistry class, but you’re still a failing student. 

In this series, Doncic has been a zero. Hell, he’s been worse than a zero — an active detriment every time down the floor. Dallas is literally playing four on five. Boston is living in the paint and generating open 3s largely because Doncic cannot bother himself to even try to stay in front of penetrators. It’s compromising everything Dallas is at least trying to do defensively. 

To be fair, it’s not all Doncic. Kyrie Irving isn’t exactly Jrue Holiday out there, but there are levels to this, and Doncic’s “efforts” are challenging the viral absurdity of the James Harden-meme heyday. Even when Dallas’ last shot at making this a series was on the line, it continued in Game 3. 

Here’s Doncic “guarding” sharpshooter Sam Hauser, who’s one pass away in the corner. He’s not even close to Hauser. He’s counting sheep in no man’s land as a pass is casually swung to Hauser for a 3. 

By the way, what the heck is Doncic pointing at on the complete opposite side of the court? I mean fine, you can argue he was trying to sag down to cut off the potential penetration, which would still be a no-no when the ball is a single pass away from the strong-side corner with a shooter like Hauser spotted up. But to turn his head in the opposite direction and start directing other defenders where to go? This a laughable level of unawareness in this kind of game. 

Oh, but there’s more. 

On Boston’s final bucket of the third quarter, Brown took off down the center of the lane and threw down a monster dunk that made the highlight reels. But look how it happened. Look at Doncic standing like that daisy-picker again at the free-throw line in absolutely no position to adjust and slide over to help when Brown rejects the screen and goes left. Doncic offers a few bumbling shuffles in Brown’s direction and then just says screw it.

Early in the third, Tatum wound up with a rhythm 3 off a kickout pass from the baseline where multiple Mavs were forced to converge on Brown. Why did they have to converge on Brown? Because Doncic was totally lost on the initial pass to Brown on the wing, which started the breakdown and put Dallas in rotation as the ball ended up in Tatum’s hands with everyone a step behind trying to make up for the first steps Doncic gave up. 

Here’s Doncic getting blown past again, this time by Tatum in the corner, which forces Dereck Lively II to step up on Tatum, which leaves Brown unaccounted for on the backside. Dunk. 

How about a little transition defense, or lack thereof? Doncic tries to act his way to a foul call by going to the ground, then, instead of jumping up and racing back on defense after he doesn’t get his way, he just stays there and complains to the ref and the Celtics cruise the other way with a man advantage and walk into yet another open 3. 

Look, the Mavericks are outclassed against the Celtics. The gap between these two teams is far wider than many people thought, myself included when I picked Dallas to win in seven, and it’s certainly too big to put the blame on Doncic’s defense. Nobody on the Mavericks can keep anyone on the Celtics in front of them. It looks like a little bit of a mirage defensive team in the way that the Thunder looked like a mirage shooting team in their second-round loss to Minnesota. Hard truths emerge in the playoffs. 

But this is supposed to be one of the best players in the world we’re talking about, if not the best. This is just too much defensive ineptitude to accept, even for such a gifted offensive player. Nobody is saying Doncic has to be good defensively. Stephen Curry has worked to make himself a fine defender — at times even a good one. Same for Nikola Jokic

Trae Young has never bothered to do this, even though he made some small strides defensively this year (again he started from such a low bar that anything looks good by comparison). Damian Lillard has long been a doormat

Luka Doncic is better than both those guys, but even as perhaps the best offensive player in the world (I would still go with Jokic), there’s a certain point where defense becomes so bad that it’s impossible to overcome in the playoffs, let alone in the Finals against a Boston team with a historic level of firepower. We’re seeing Doncic and the Mavericks at that point, and at least for this season, there’s no more time to do anything about it. This series is over. 

The post Luka Doncic’s defense hits shameful levels with Mavericks on brink of being swept by Celtics first appeared on CBS Sports.


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