Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2020-21 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
Today, Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic takes the spotlight.
Context: The LA Clippers have a Luka Doncic problem.
After leading the Mavericks to a Game 1 victory with 31 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, Doncic did more of the same in Game 2, posting 39 points, seven assists and seven rebounds in a six-point win. He was efficient once again, this time shooting 16-for-29 from the field and 5-for-13 from the 3-point line.
The Mavericks now return to Dallas with a 2-0 series lead. Paul George said after the Game 2 loss that there is no concern, but the Clippers now have to beat a team that they have had some trouble with over the last couple of seasons four times in five games to advance to the second round. While it's still too soon to count them out - they wouldn't be the first team to bounce back from an 0-2 deficit - they certainly have their work cut out for them.
Doncic is one of the most complete players in the NBA, but there's one particular way he's leaving his mark on this series.
You know what that means - to the film room!
Breakdown: Doncic brings the ball up the court following a missed shot from Reggie Jackson.
Surrounding him are three 3-point shooters in Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Richardson and Dorian Finney-Smith, plus a lob threat in Willie Cauley-Stein.
Hardaway, Richardson and Finney-Smith space the floor for Doncic to go at Kawhi Leonard in the post by parking themselves along the 3-point line while Cauley-Stein camps out in the dunker spot.
A two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Leonard is LA's best chance at stopping Doncic. Not only is he a defensive genius, he's built like a brick wall at 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds.
Doncic might not come across as some kind of brute, but he's listed at 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds. Like Dirk Nowitzki told The Ringer's Bill Simmons, "once he has a defender that's a little smaller than him on his shoulder, he's going to get to the basket." (Click here if you want to watch how much of a bully Doncic can be out of the post).
Knowing how strong and shifty he is, Leonard uses his size to keep Doncic out of the paint.
Leonard is in good shape until Doncic fakes as though he's going to spin baseline.
It's not like Doncic turns Leonard into dust or anything, but his fake opens up the little space he needs to get his shot off over Leonard's massive 7-foot-3 wingspan.
Does that remind you of anyone? Because it should.
Why it matters: According to NBA.com, Doncic has scored 19 of his 70 points in the series in isolation. He's scored an additional six points out of the post, meaning he's generated over a third (35.7 percent) of his offence in 1-on-1 situations. He's been rather efficient on both of those plays, scoring at a rate of 1.12 points per possession in isolation and 1.00 points per possession in the post.
For context, the former would've ranked Doncic in the 91st percentile in the regular season while the latter would've ranked him in the 63rd percentile.
You wouldn't be alone if you thought a Clippers team that had the eighth-best defensive rating this season and isn't exactly short on talented perimeter defenders would be able to give Doncic some trouble, but, well, they haven't. Not even close.
Patrick Beverley is a two-time member of the All-Defensive Second Team and a one-time member of the All-Defensive First Team, but Doncic kindly let him know in Game 1 that he is too small to defend him.
Ivica Zubac is one of the league's most effective rim protectors, but he doesn't stand much of a chance against Doncic on an island.
Seriously, not a chance.
Similar to Leonard, Marcus Morris Sr. has the size to match up with Doncic at 6-foot-8 and 218 pounds, but he's been unable to provide much resistance.
Ditto for George, a two-time member of the All-Defensive First Team and two-time member of the All-Defensive Second Team.
It's become pretty clear at this point that Doncic fears nobody.
So what's the answer? The popular one is to have Leonard and only Leonard defend Doncic, but that's easier said than done.
For one, Doncic is a switch away from getting the matchup he wants. Even if the Clippers switch less liberally, Doncic is such a smart offensive player that he's going to find cracks. Two, the Clippers can't afford for him to gas out on defence. As spectacular as Doncic has been, Leonard hasn't been far behind him, posting averages of 33.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists through two games. We've seen Leonard dominate both ends of the court for an entire series before - look no further than the 2014 NBA Finals and the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals - but is he up to the task this early in the playoffs considering the road the Clippers would have to take to make the Finals?
Besides, Doncic has even had some success against Leonard so far in this series, that Dirk-ian fadeaway being one of four buckets he's been credited with scoring with Leonard serving as his primary defender. Other than doubling him at every opportunity to get the ball out of his hands, which is also risky given his next-level vision, or hoping his much improved 3-point shooting isn't real, the reality is there might not be an answer to the Doncic problem.
The Clippers certainly haven't had one through two games of this series, and they're running out of time to find one.
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