Luka Doncic leaves door open for NBA Finals redemption by setting tone for Mavericks in dominant Game 4

Written by on June 15, 2024

That’s the Luka Doncic the world was looking for.

On Friday night in Dallas, in a 122-84 destruction of the Boston Celtics to send the NBA Finals back East for a Game 5, Doncic & Co. kept alive a sliver of hope that the wildest of NBA Finals comebacks are possible — to say nothing of a little self respect.

Yes, this was just one game. Yes, the Celtics only need a single win to send the Dallas Mavericks packing. Yes, it’s still true no team has ever mounted a 3-0 series comeback in the playoffs, let alone in the Finals. And, yes, after 48 hours of brutally honest and well-deserved criticism, Doncic finally acting and playing like the star and leader he needs to be doesn’t exactly add up to a full redemption story.

But it’s a really good start.

Doncic dropped 13 of his 29 points in the first quarter, setting the tone for an early lead Dallas never relinquished. He finally played defense with some self respect and effort, setting the tone for a Mavs defense that limited the Celtics to an embarrassing 84 points on just better than 36% shooting. He stopped barking at the refs and acting like an angry man child and — there’s a pattern emerging here — set the tone for a team that played with dignity instead of disarray, and got a win in part as a result.

What a shock: As stars go, and lead — or as they don’t — so go their teams. Especially this Luka-led Mavs squad.

Luka did not prove his doubters wrong by winning a single game in the playoffs. To be down 3-0 and win Game 4 at home isn’t exactly revolutionary — this wasn’t the second coming of Michael Jordan. 

Gentlemen’s sweeps are a thing for a reason. Boston had to fly home Friday night regardless of the outcome, and the Celtics clearly let go of some of their zeal and fear and focus after having come to the brink of a title. That’s human nature. So was Dallas playing to stave off humiliation, and playing with the kind of house-money freedom that comes when deep down the series already feels over.

The same thing happened to the 2017 Golden State Warriors, who, in 2017, rattled off 15 straight wins and eventually went up 3-0 in the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers without having lost a playoff game to that point. Game 4? They lost by 21. Then they won the title a few days later, as tends to happen in these situations.

So let’s not get too carried away right now.

But it’s also true nothing has happened until it has, a fact, at least in sports, Boston fans should know better than anyone. That the 2004 Boston Red Sox came back in the ALCS after being down 3-0 to the New York Yankees doesn’t mean such a thing will happen again.

But it certainly means it can.

And that’s where Luka’s real redemption, if it’s to happen this season, must happen. 

Luka has not played at the levels he needs to in this series. Not on defense. Not as a leader — all that chirping at the officials, and fouling out in Game 3, was unacceptable. He’s shot just 32% on 3s against Boston, his field-goal percentage has also dropped from the regular season, and his turnovers have gone up.

There are also very real questions and worries about whether the style in which Doncic plays is more likely to make him the next James Harden than the next all-time great.

It’s winning that proves those doubts and criticisms wrong, or temporary. Going back to Boston and getting closed out by this Celtics team doesn’t make Friday’s Mavs win a we-told-you-so moment for Luka supporters. It just underscores the man did too little, too late, on the biggest stage of them all.

Luka’s story will not be written in full if this series, as expected, ultimately goes to the Celtics indomitable depth and excellence. He’ll have years ahead to try to do that, time to take the lessons of failure from this series and apply them.

But this series is not over yet. Boston is the likely — highly likely — 2024 NBA champion, but that is not destined. That, too, is not yet written.

Even, say, shocking the Celtics at home on Monday in Boston, winning again in a would-be Game 6 in Dallas and forcing a Game 7 — even to lose then — would go far to turn the last 48 hours of rightful Luka criticism into the things he needed to hear rather than the definitive truth of who he is today.

Winning cures many things. And in winning on Friday Luka Doncic has kept alive, however faintly, the possibility he can rewrite his story much faster than seemed possible even a few days ago.

The post Luka Doncic leaves door open for NBA Finals redemption by setting tone for Mavericks in dominant Game 4 first appeared on CBS Sports.


Reader's opinions

Leave a Reply


Current track

Title

Artist