OKC fans chanted ‘Luka sucks,’ but Doncic’s play said otherwise

OKC fans chanted ‘Luka sucks,’ but Doncic’s play said otherwise

If the Mavs superstar gets going like he did in Game 2 on Thursday night, the Thunder has to be better in other areas.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| May 10, 2024, 6:23am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

May 10, 2024, 6:23am CDT

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The chant took a minute to catch on late in Thursday’s game, but after a couple of rounds, Thunder fans inside Paycom Center roared their contempt.

“Lu-ka sucks! Lu-ka sucks!”

Just because they chanted it doesn’t mean it’s true.

If it was meant as a reflection of his incessant complaining to the officials, well, then, I will co-sign that grievance of annoyance and irritation. But on a night the Mavericks evened this Western Conference semifinal, if the chant was in reference to his play, then I wholeheartedly disagree.

Luka Doncic definitely did not suck. 

Mavericks 119, Thunder 110.

What, you thought this was going to be easy?

I know it seemed that was these first couple weeks of the playoffs. When the Thunder played, the Thunder won. A sweep of the Pelicans. A rout of the Mavs in Game 1.

Easy peasy.

But Thursday night, Luka made things anything but. He scored 29 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished seven assists. He splashed five shots from behind the arc. And when the Thunder was trying to make things interesting in the fourth quarter, he hit two shots that slammed the door.

The Thunder, which seemed to be playing from behind all night but seemed to always make a run, had cut the lead to five points with 7:10 left in the game. But on back-to-back possessions, Luka hit shots against Lu Dort.

(Turns out, Dort might actually be human, not superhero.)

On the first basket, Luka brought the ball up court and got a screen just beyond midcourt. Dort fought through it because of course he did, but he ended up trailing Doncic. By the time Dort caught up, Luka had already gotten deep. 

From the left block, he hit a short jumper off the glass.

On the next possession, Luka brought the ball up court again. Got another screen just beyond midcourt, too. Dort trailed behind Doncic again, but this time, Dort caught up to him around the free-throw line. Doncic spun to create some space, stepped back and shot a turnaround fadeaway.

It was a much tougher shot, but the result was the same.

Luka’s back-to-back baskets stretched the Mavs’ lead to nine points, and the Thunder never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.

Thunder coach Mark Daigneault didn’t love everything about the defense against Luka.

“We went and got him a little bit tonight, and the execution on those plays wasn’t great,” Daigneault said. “We mixed our looks again. I think that’s important against him is not to give him a steady diet of anything.

“But we’ve just got to tighten the screws on the execution a little bit on that.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said, “Just making him work for everything and making things tough. He’s seen every coverage, every defense. It’s just about making him work, and hopefully, that wears on him.”

It seemed to be doing just that several times Thursday night. There were multiple instances where Luka hobbled around the Paycom Center court on his gimpy knee, only to come down court a possession or two later and drive to the basket or kick to a teammate or make one of those ridiculous fadeaways.

It was like the old bait-and-switch.

He’s hurt that knee. He’s struggling to move. He can’t do anything.

Psych!

He only scored 19 points and hit just six shots in Game 1. He’s no biggie.

Gotcha!

“Last game, he didn’t shoot the ball very well,” Daigneault said. “There were some looks that he got last game that he’s probably used to making. He made more of them early in the game tonight.

“I didn’t think it was necessarily what we gave him. I thought it was some of the rotations out of it. Some of the help wasn’t quite as early as it was last game. 

“But he’s gonna earn it.”

The truth is, as good as Luka was Thursday night, he didn’t have one of his offensive explosions. He can go for 40 or 50 points easily. He can go higher than that, too. 

But if he’s going to score and assist and rebound at the rate he did in Game 2, the Thunder has to be better in other areas. Don’t let PJ Washington hit seven threes and score 29 points. Don’t get outscored and outplayed when Luka is on the bench. Don’t commit as many turnovers as you force, losing the turnover battle.

And if Chet Holmgren could score more than 11 points and Jalen Williams could go nuclear like he normally does at some point in the second half, that’d be good, too.

Instead, the Thunder finds itself in unfamiliar territory — needing to bounce back after a playoff loss.

That’s something a bunch of these playoff newbies have yet to do.

“We’ve lost a game before,” Daigneault said. “This isn’t uncharted waters. We just haven’t lost lately.

“This is a team that’s made a habit of getting back up. We keep a pretty steady temperament through the ups and downs of the season, and this is just part of the deal.”

He likened this series to a heavyweight fight.

“We threw a punch the other night. They threw a punch tonight,” Daigneault said. “Part of fighting is throwing them and part of fighting is taking them. We took one tonight.”

Luka landed the biggest blows. 

And where the Thunder was concerned, yes, you could say that sucked.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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