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Luka Doncic is roughed up by Clippers, but his game is smooth

Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic is pressured by Clippers' Reggie Jackson and JaMychal Green.
Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic is pressured by Clippers’ Reggie Jackson and JaMychal Green, right, during the third quarter of Game 1 of the NBA first-round playoff series on Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
(Kevin C. Cox / Associated Press)

Luka Doncic, the Mavericks’ 21-year-old megastar, skidded across the court repeatedly during his first ever NBA playoff game.

He hit the ground after the ball squirted loose, and he got up grabbing his ankle. He hit the ground after another turnover and started rubbing the sleeve on his left arm. He drove to the basket and hit the ground again. At one point, he returned to the locker room before coming back to the Mavericks’ bench.

See, defenses aren’t going to stop Doncic, one of the NBA’s best playmakers. But they might be able to bruise him. And they sure can pester him. And that, Monday night, was the plan.

In the first game of their series with the Mavericks, the Clippers showed their defensive versatility and physicality in how they defended Doncic, forcing the second-year guard into 11 turnovers. But no matter how much pushing and how much griping Doncic did, the beyond-his-years star never fell totally out of the game.

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He finished with 42 points — the most ever for a player in his playoff debut.

“He’s a fighter. He’s always going to battle,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’ll never get discouraged.”

A normal player probably would’ve been.

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He committed nearly half his turnovers before the sun set in Los Angeles, but instead of buckling under as bad of a start as possible, he settled down. Like he has all season, Doncic broke down the Clippers’ perimeter defense and got into the center of the floor, finding open shooters with GPS precision.

With Kristaps Porzingis ejected, Doncic took on an even bigger load, pushing to the brink of exhaustion as the Mavericks tried to steal the first game of the series.

So how did he think he played?

“Terrible,” Doncic said.

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There’s so much there that Doncic might actually be right.

TNT analyst and former NBA guard Greg Anthony said the Dallas star wasn’t the future of the league — maybe he’s the present.

“I’m not saying he is the best player in the NBA. I don’t want that to be misquoted,” Anthony said, moving his take from simmer to boil, “But to me, he’s the most talented player in this league.”

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In just his second season, Doncic has already entered the LeBron James, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo level of player — where teams just throw their hands up when it comes to trying to stop you. Doc Rivers said as much after the game, essentially saying the Clippers were going to have to live with Doncic’s scoring.

Keep in mind those 42 points? They came with Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverley and Marcus Morris all taking turns as the defender set to try and slow him down. All, at times, failed.

And when he wasn’t scoring, Doncic was drawing defenders out of position, repeatedly finding teammates for open threes, the kinds of shots Dallas is going to have to get (and make) if they want to upset the Clippers.

“There were some positives to take out of this game,” Carlisle said.

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Unsurprisingly, the moment wasn’t too big for Doncic, whose “every game is the same” attitude helped him weather everything the Clippers threw his direction.

“Luka was just being Luka out there,” Porzingis said.

Woike reported from Los Angeles.

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