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Playoffs 2020

The highs and lows of Luka Doncic's record-setting playoff debut

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Luka Doncic [NBA Getty Images]

There was never a doubt that it would be history in the making when sophomore sensation Luka Doncic made his playoff debut.

You knew somehow, someway, records would be broken and Doncic would put on a show, as is the high standard he's set for himself every time he touches the court following an MVP-calibre season.

Facing off against an LA Clippers team that many anticipate reaching the Western Conference Finals at the very least, the odds are stacked against the Dallas Mavericks from the jump.

When Game 1 got underway, it didn't take long to realize just how challenging this task would be for the 21-year-old phenom. Doncic had four turnovers within the first two minutes of the game as the Clippers ran out to a 10-0 lead in the blink of an eye.

He'd bounce back from that horrid start, but the game didn't get any easier for Doncic and the Mavericks in their eight-point loss to LA. They were forced to play the majority of the second half without their second-best player in Kristaps Porzingis, who saw his postseason debut cut short when he received his second technical with nine minutes to play in the third quarter.

Dallas already asks the world of Doncic, so when you take his sidekick out of the equation, the weight on his shoulders gets even heavier. In his first-ever playoff game, no less.

Luka would handle that pressure as he does so often. He'd go on to score 42 points, the most in a playoff debut in NBA history.

Most points in playoff debut in NBA history
Rank Player Points Team vs. Oppenent Result
1. Luka Doncic 42 Mavericks vs. Clippers (2020) Loss
2. John Williamson* 38 Nets vs. 76ers (1979) Loss
3. George Mikan 37 Lakers vs. Chicago Stags (1949) Win
T-4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 36 Bucks vs. 76ers (1970) Win
T-4. Gary Brokaw 36 Bucks vs. Pistons (1976) Win
T-4. Julius Erving* 36 76ers vs. Celtics (1977) Loss
T-4. Derrick Rose 36 Bulls vs. Celtics (2009) Win

*played in ABA playoffs prior to NBA playoff debut

Doncic was efficient, too. He shot 13-for-21 (61.9%) from the field and put the pressure on the Clippers defence by attacking the rim, getting to the free throw line 15 times while converting 14 of those attempts.

The attention he drew from LA's defenders caused a great number of turnovers (which we'll get to in a second), but also resulted in a game-high nine assists.

While Basketball-Reference doesn't allow you to sort individual playoff games in history by usage rate, Doncic's 43.3% usage in his playoff debut can be assumed to be among the highest in NBA history. Nearly half of the Mavericks' plays in their tight loss came at the hands of their young superstar.

Some of those plays resulted in "Luka Magic" while others contributed to his 11 turnovers, the second-most in a playoff game in NBA history. James Harden holds that record with 12 turnovers in a Game 5 loss against the Golden State Warriors back in 2015 Western Conference Finals, but what's asked and expected of these elite guards can be held in the same conversation.

Take this turnover in the first two minutes for example:

Doncic is trying to make something happen but loses his handle and coughs it up to two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard. But how many times have we seen Luka turn a play like that into a jaw-dropping bucket or assist?

Well, later in that very same quarter, Doncic did just that.

Look at the gravity he pulls from the Clippers' defence as five players collapse around him when he gets into the paint. Naturally, that much pressure is going to cause turnovers, but it'll also create looks like this one below when you have the court vision that the Mavericks' maestro does.

This is by no means to say that his double-digit turnovers can still be seen as a positive, but sometimes you have to take the good with the bad. Doncic would prefer to take it without.

When asked about his record-breaking playoff debut, the Slovenian was hard on himself. "I should never have 11 turnovers. That's 11 more possessions - imagine that? I gotta be way better than that. ... It was terrible. I just want to win."

In a game decided by a few possessions, Luka's frustration is understandable. The margin for error is so small in the playoffs, especially against a championship-calibre team like the Clippers.

With Dallas playing in their first postseason without Dirk Nowitzki since 1990, Doncic has some huge shoes to fill in taking over the reins after an all-time great. But even Nowitzki didn't come away with a win in his first playoff game, going for 20 points and 12 rebounds in a two-point loss to the Utah Jazz back in 2001.

With Luka's highly anticipated playoff debut behind him, it's back to the drawing board for Game 2. Whether or not Porzingis will be available is to be determined, but you can be sure that the 21-year-old star will be ready to shoulder a similar load and learn from his mistakes in Game 1.

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