Home Sports 2024 NBA Finals: Luka Dončić rebounds from heavy criticism to remind of his brilliance in Mavs’ Game 4 rout

2024 NBA Finals: Luka Dončić rebounds from heavy criticism to remind of his brilliance in Mavs’ Game 4 rout

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Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) reacts after a play during the first half of Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals against the Boston Celtics, Friday, June 14, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

DALLAS – Luka Dončić needed more and more, and given the events of the past two days, Friday night’s Game 4 of the NBA Finals wasn’t about the crowning of the Boston Celtics or a chance to cap off a historic season.

This was the player with pedigree, catching loose points and gaps from all sides and causing his coach to offer a passionate defense of his star player.

So, yes, it was the ultimate paradox for Dončić: more passion, less emotion. More concentration on the court, less attention on the referees. More physical strength but less forced in the plodding style of him that hinders Dallas’ offense.

For one night, perhaps it was a sign of things to come, or a simple stay of execution until the inevitable. Dončić and the Mavericks avoided embarrassment with a resounding victory in Game 4 on their own court, winning 122-84 at the American Airlines Center.

The tone was set 90 minutes before the game, when Mavericks coach Jason Kidd defended Dončić after two days of the superstar being criticized by the media. Kidd felt that the criticism was a bit harsh and too exaggerated for someone as decorated as Dončić.

Luka Dončić found some redemption in the Mavericks’ Game 4 blowout in the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics on Friday, June 14, 2024 in Dallas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Kidd did it because he knows he has to with the coach-player relationship under scrutiny in today’s NBA, and Kidd has been on both sides.

“That’s my job. My job is to protect him and tell the truth,” Kidd told Yahoo Sports after the game. “I didn’t lie or do anything out of the ordinary. We just went too far.”

“We” are more the media, but Kidd felt that Dončić has always been responsible: his weight, his basketball character and many other issues were apparently being judged before the start of Game 4.

“He has never run away from anything. He would always sit there and respond,” Kidd told Yahoo Sports. “Yes he was diving in and dodging the questions…but he sat down and answered the tough questions. He shoots, the boys run, hide and disappear and he understands it. But he is front and center, and the character of him and who he is, it showed tonight.”

If there was any nervousness, any belief that the Mavericks would cast aside (if Dončić would simply accept a championship celebration in their hallways), it dissipated early.

If there is a belief that the Mavericks can do the improbable and bring this series back to Dallas for an interesting Game 6, it is the belief that Dončić can have another 25-point first half, as he punished smaller guards and He worked too hard on the big ones in the mismatches to finish. with 29 points, five rebounds and five assists. His night ended in the third quarter because the terms of the night had already been decided a long time ago.

“It will take everything,” said Dončić. “It will take energy, especially energy, because the season is already advanced. We play a lot of games. “We have to stay together and locked up.”

Strategically, he moved more because Dante Exum handled the ball a little more, allowing Dončić to shed his James Harden disguise and be responsible at all points on the court.

If that’s replicable, then we’ll be having a different conversation. Until then, it’s probably more frustrating that this version hasn’t come out sooner, but the Mavs probably had to be pushed into this corner of desperation to do things differently.

“Maybe. But he’s been a guy who can score,” Kidd said of the idea of ​​Dončić moving further away from the ball. “He’s been moving tonight and he felt good. So we’ll need that same feeling in Boston.”

Although the series ends as many predict, this night was especially necessary for Dončić. A sweep would have been ugly, but not a career-defining factor.

It would not have been an indelible black mark on Dončić’s reputation, because better men have had more terrible situations. Magic Johnson was once called “Tragic,” in big, bold headlines. LeBron James failed and failed, at the absolute peak of his career. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant suffered humiliation and discomfort.

The ultimate lesson is what good this could do for Dončić, as long as he doesn’t achieve the impossible and rally this team from a 3-0 deficit. The numbers say that the Celtics are one of the historic teams we’ve seen in a short time: four players who will probably end up in the Hall of Fame when it’s over, a team on the verge of the sacred and almost newly created 80-20 clubs (80 wins and 20 losses or less), so there is no shame in losing to a team that has barely lost a game in more than a month.

That is why the criticisms of Dončić seem valid and often forceful, depending on who says what. Dončić’s greatness, however, requires high expectations. He has shown how he can dominate a game with his strength and skill, and it is not unfair to expect him to try on defense, if only to not leave his teammates in constantly compromising positions.

It’s tempting to say that Dallas is figuring out the Celtics, little by little. Kristaps Porziņģis again missed a game, even though Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla rated him as active, he could move tectonic plates because he is undefendable and difficult to contain when he gets to the rim to defend you.

But if he’s not there, Dereck Lively II and Daniel Gafford can feast a little longer, for a while. At least in the margins.

And that’s what’s necessary for the Mavericks to get another win in this series, even if it’s in Boston. They feel they should have won the second or third game, but they were the reason for their own downfall, including Dončić, if not the main culprit.

Tonight, it was Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown who struggled. Dončić and Irving were on the same page all night, and Irving does his best to lead without being overbearing with this superstar teammate.

Kidd came to Dončić’s aid and did not go unnoticed.

“I think it shows how important it is to have quality leaders in the locker room and someone who’s been through it, someone who can talk about it,” said Irving, who had 21 points, six assists and four rebounds. “And also someone who is more than willing to sacrifice themselves to take the bullets and the weight of responsibility.

“He knows how important it is for us to focus on the right things. We can’t focus on answering all these critical and unfair questions. Some of them may be fair, right? But if you’re not necessarily playing with us, it’s going to be hard for us to connect if you’re talking shit about one of our teammates.”

The Mavericks organization is rightfully protective of Dončić. Every franchise move that has been made has been aimed at maximizing its growth and ensuring that its future is as bright as possible; hence the Irving trade and the stealth scouting that landed them Lively II in the draft.

He’s not easy to build around, possibly not easy to coach, considering the tantrums with referees and deficiencies that would frustrate even the most neutral basketball fan.

But it’s still so special and worth keeping.

“That’s our little brother over there. He is in the final. He’s going to make mistakes,” Irving said. “That’s also the reason why I had that peaceful feeling towards myself after the game. I’m not going to walk up to Luka and say, “It’s all your fault.” That’s not how it works in our locker room. We sure don’t want to start those bad habits now. “I’ve been on teams where we’ve allowed the media or opinions to infiltrate what’s going on, and it hasn’t worked well.”

Kidd kept the message consistent, not changing too much to distance his team from the things that got them to this point, and they responded.

Dončić responded and Irving said the Slovenian silenced the critics for one night. But the critics aren’t the opponent here, the Celtics are, and the pendulum of emotion could swing back in the other direction in 48 hours.

“I mean, it doesn’t change anything. As I said at the beginning of the series, it is the first four,” Dončić said. “We are going to believe until the end. So we have to move forward. I firmly believe in this team that we can do it, so we have to keep believing.”

Journey’s cheesy song, “Don’t Stop Believin’,” came on during one of the fourth-quarter timeouts, so maybe it got stuck in Dončić’s head. Or maybe the words came easily out of his mouth. because that’s how it feels.

But this is impossible, right?

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