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Luka Doncic isn’t launching, he’s dominating. Five takeaways from Game 4

Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic gives a thumbs-up during the second quarter of Game 4 against the Clippers.
Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic gives a thumbs-up during the second quarter of Game 4 against the Clippers on Sunday.
(Kevin C. Cox / Associated Press)

With no need for postseason travel at the NBA’s Disney World campus, the league’s condensed, every-other-day playoff format has revealed that one of the most valuable traits inside the bubble is a team’s ability to move on.

Dallas did it after a loss in Game 3, despite being given fewer than 40 hours to help star Luka Doncic’s weak left ankle recover. They pulled off a stunning 21-point comeback in Sunday’s Game 4 to win, 135-133, behind Doncic’s second consecutive playoff triple double.

Now the challenge is on the Clippers who, facing a 2-2 series with Game 5 Tuesday, must galvanize a roster coach Doc Rivers called emotionally weak.

Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s loss:

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1. Leading into this series there was some discussion that this series, as Doncic’s postseason debut, could provide a launching pad for his future.

It’s time to scratch that. There’s no need to wait — he’s already performing at historic levels.

Doncic on Sunday became the first player in postseason history to score at least 43 points, grab at least 17 rebounds and dish at least 13 assists. According to the Mavericks, the only player to exceed those totals in the regular season is Wilt Chamberlain, who finished with 53 points, 32 rebounds and 14 assists in 1968.

Luka Doncic’s standout performance in the Dallas Mavericks’ Game 4 playoff win shows how much the Clippers must overcome to create a new playoff legacy.

He is also only the third player in playoff history, joining Oscar Robertson and Charles Barkley, with a 40-point, 15-rebound, 10-assist game.

And he did it on one fully healthy ankle, without center Kristaps Porzingis, who sat because of knee soreness, to relieve pressure from the offensive load Doncic shouldered.

“Look, we know this kid has got a flair for the dramatic,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s a performer as well as a great player. He’s a guy that lives for these moments. Is completely fearless. At the end it was all about finding a way to get the ball in his hands.”

2. Porzingis, by the way, will undergo an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of his injury, Carlisle said.

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“He has not been ruled out for Game 5 so we’ll hope for the best and hope that he feels better,” Carlisle said.

3. Clippers forward Paul George says his confidence is not shaken after making 10 of his 47 shots in his last three games but to break out of his slump he must walk a fine line of staying aggressive while not siphoning shots away from teammates should his struggles continue.

One proposed solution for Game 5, he said, is being aggressive in shooting closer to the basket to start before launching from three-point range, where he has made four of his 25 shots in his last three games.

It’s not a foolproof fix, however. In the last three games he has made four of his 12 attempts inside the paint. That includes a missed layup with 1:32 remaining in overtime and the Clippers leading 127-126.

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Highlights from the Clippers’ 135-133 overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4.

“I play the game confidently,” George said. “The shots that I’m taking, I’m expecting to make. It just is what it is. Just missing shots. And I don’t think it’s from a confidence standpoint, ‘cause once I see it go through and I find that rhythm, I’ll be right where I want to be. Problem is, just getting to that point. Usually, you’re in a hostile environment and that usually helps you get to that moment, so I just gotta find that.”

George’s mention of not being able to use a hostile road crowd as motivation is interesting. Some players do use it for fuel, to their advantage. But on Aug. 15, before the series began, George also cited the lack of fans as one reason why players throughout the bubble had perhaps shot so well during the seeding round.

“Guys are shooting it well,” he said then. “I don’t think it’s that much pressure on guys being in a hostile environment.”

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Leonard continued to back his star teammate Sunday, suggesting an inevitability that George’s efficiency will return. The Clippers must hope that is the case.

“His time is coming,” Leonard said. “He had some easy looks tonight. Everybody did, but it’s not his fault. We were up big in the second quarter and I think everybody has a part in winning the basketball game.”

4. One game after Rivers and Clippers teammates felt Montrezl Harrell was beginning to look like himself again after a month-long separation from the team while mourning the death of his grandmother, Harrell struggled to replicate that impact in Game 4.

He finished with two points, one rebound, one assist, three blocks and two turnovers in 17 minutes and Dallas made 67% of its field goals when he was on the floor.

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But the defensive issues go beyond Harrell, of course, and that’s not encouraging for a unit that expected to be one of the toughest defenses in the NBA this season. Even without Porzingis, who scored 34 points two days earlier, the Mavericks shot 50% Sunday.

“I think we’ve been passive,” Rivers said. “I think they’ve been able to catch the ball wherever they wanted to catch the ball. I think they’re hitting us first on all the pick-and-rolls. And give them credit; they’re so much more -- the more physical team and the more aggressive team. It’s not even close.”

5. Hours before Doncic stood, scowling and celebrating after his 28-foot shot to beat the buzzer and the Clippers in overtime, he jogged to midcourt Sunday during warmups and met Harrell with a smile.

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Their encounter Friday in Game 3 had not been so pleasant.

Doncic appeared to elbow Harrell, the 6-foot-7 center, after a Mavericks miss, sending Harrell to the floor and Doncic to tell him, “stop flopping, man.” Harrell responded after a basket later in the first half by locking eyes with the Mavericks guard while backpedaling on defense while shouting a four-word, expletive-laden response that included “white boy.”

Reaction to Harrell’s comment, which was caught by a close-up during the game’s television broadcast, varied.

Doug Gottlieb, a former collegiate point guard and radio host, tweeted it was “not racist, it is just basketball.” But Jay Williams, the former NBA guard and ESPN analyst, criticized Harrell for including race as part of his retort.

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“I can only imagine if Luka Doncic had said something like that to you and it got caught on tape,” Williams said, in a video he posted Sunday to Twitter …“But it’s not that big of a story, because Trez said it to a Caucasian person. It should be a big story, because that’s not acceptable man. Look, I’m a hooper. I talk trash. I cuss people out. We can get into the nuances of whether that’s right or wrong, too, but what you said, involving race into it. And I’ve heard that being said in basketball scenarios and playing hoops in the inner cities. I still didn’t find it acceptable then. I don’t find it acceptable now, especially when cameras are on you 24-7. Get lost in your battle, man. But don’t get lost in saying things like that.”

On ABC’s broadcast Sunday, announcer Mike Breen said Harrell had been talked to by the league and Rivers about what he had said.

“He said ‘white boy,’ but I don’t think there was anything racial intended,” Rivers told SI.com Sunday. “But we are in a very heightened climate and you have to be careful. Trez was the first one to say that. He said, ‘I didn’t mean that racially.’ And I said it doesn’t matter. It’s what’s perceived … make sure you do the right thing.”

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Writing on Twitter after the game, Harrell said no one had spoken with him about contacting Doncic but “I approach[ed] him and cleared the air from all the outside nonsense that was being said. Nothing but respect for Luka.”

Doncic chalked up the comment to “a lot of emotions on the court, especially in this playoffs,” he said after the victory.

“Sometimes you say things you don’t want to say,” Doncic added. “He apologized, I respect that, so no problems.”


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