Luka Dončić is learning the intense demands of the NBA Finals



The NBA Finals Dilemma

In a more perfect world, the NBA would have figured out a way to retract the sixth foul call on Luka Dončić. It’s not ideal to have the home team’s best player sitting out most of crunchtime in a game that swings the NBA Finals. Not over a can-go-either-way blocking foul. Not after their furious rally to nearly erase a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit.

The Crucial Foul

With 4 minutes, 12 seconds left on Wednesday and the Dallas Mavericks down a basket in the proverbial must-win Game 3, Dončić was whistled for a blocking foul — his sixth of the game — on a bang-bang play out near the 3-point line. Jaylen Brown, charging down the court in transition, had enough of a forearm in Dončić’s chest to make it possible to be an offensive foul.

The Hard Lessons

Dončić is 25 years old and every bit magnificent. He is the truth. He’s putting up colossal numbers while playing through several ailments and had his team in back-to-back close games against what is a better team. Yet, Dallas still needs more from him.

A Valuable Experience

His beef with the refs is a symptom. It flares up when he’s most desperate. When he can feel the string on which he has the ball, the opponent, the game, slipping away. A part of him seems to believe he needs that edge, of which he’s being deprived.

The Path to Greatness

Dončić needs another teammate or two who can create offense. But he also needs to learn how to play off the ball and manipulate his gravity to empower his teammates. And he needs to discover how to compete earnestly and consistently on defense.

The Final Test

Boston has attacked him relentlessly. His endurance is being exposed on this final stage. Should Dallas be unable to become the first team to erase a 3-0 deficit in a seven-game series, Dončić will spend this offseason hearing about the inadequacy of his defense and conditioning. This series has proven that as great as he is, Dončić still has another level to clear.

The Road to Legend

He belongs in the highest echelon of basketball legends. It’s a safe bet he will someday get behind the velvet rope of the game’s best. Games like this, series like these, are how he’ll do it. Because the brink is always where capacities expand.

(Top photo of Dončić: Stacy Revere / Getty Images)


Read More of this Story at www.nytimes.com – 2024-06-13 17:53:49

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