NBA MVP finalists Gilgeous-Alexander, Doncic meet in 2nd round

NBA MVP finalists Gilgeous-Alexander, Doncic meet in 2nd round

/ 05:15 PM May 07, 2024

Luka Doncic Mavericks NBA Playoffs

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) steps back to take a shot in front of Los Angeles Clippers guard James Harden, center, as guard Norman Powell (24) looks on during the second half of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Friday, May 3, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Two young MVP finalists will square off when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and No. 1 seed Oklahoma City face Luka Doncic and No. 5 seed Dallas in the second round of the NBA Western Conference playoffs.

The series matching the high-scoring 25-year-olds begins Tuesday.

Doncic led the league in scoring this season at 33.9 points per game. The 6-foot-7, 230-pound guard averaged 29.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 9.5 assists in six first-round games against the Los Angeles Clippers.

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He also has way more playoff experience than Gilgeous-Alexander, having led the Mavs to the Western Conference finals two years ago. The Thunder are coming off their first playoff series win since 2016.

“He is who he is for a reason,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “No one guy slows him down.”

Oklahoma City’s Lu Dort, one of the league’s best defensive wing players, will guard Doncic most of the time. While Doncic often overpowers opponents, Dort is solid at 6-4 and 220 pounds.

READ: NBA: Doncic, Irving carry Mavericks past Clippers and into 2nd round

“He plays hard at all times,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. “Dort is one that’s going to compete when he’s on the floor. That’s how he came in the league, and that’s how he’s still playing. Until he leaves the league, he’s going to play hard. He understands his defense has caused a problem in this league. He plays hard for the time that he’s out on the floor. … He knows no other way.”

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Jalen Williams and rookie Cason Wallace also likely will get some of the work guarding Doncic. Rookie Chet Holmgren, a 7-1 center, will be waiting to help. Those players helped the Thunder finish the season fourth in the league in defensive rating and third in opponent field goal percentage.

“We have some some dogs that we have a lot of confidence in and we have a team behind those guys,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “They’re not on an island against a player like him. … We all have to be locked in. But we’re going to depend on our guys.”

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Shai Gilgeous-Alexander OKC Thunder NBA playoffs

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) drives to the basket between New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum (3) and forward Larry Nance Jr. (22) in the second half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in New Orleans, Monday, April 29, 2024. The Thunder won 97-89 to sweep the series and advance to the second round. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Gilgeous-Alexander finished third in the league at 30.1 points per game, and he shot 53.5% from the field. The 6-foot-6 guard averaged 27.3 points in the Thunder’s first-round sweep of the New Orleans Pelicans.

“He’s one of the best young players in this league and so he puts a lot of pressure on your defense,” Kidd said. “Everyone’s going to get a chance to guard him.”

Gilgeous-Alexander attacks the paint relentlessly, often finishing at awkward angles in traffic. Dallas center Dereck Lively II said the goal is to make him uncomfortable.

READ: NBA: Thunder dispatch Pelicans, move on to next round

“It’s just going to be able to try to show him a crowd, trying to make sure we know his spots and trying to get him off of his spots,” Lively said. “He’s going to make tough shots. He’s going to make crazy shots.”

Dallas center Daniel Gafford said slowing Gilgeous-Alexander will require discipline and teamwork.

“Don’t fall for pump fakes and stay out of foul trouble,” Gafford said. “Trying to do our best trying to protect the basket against guys that predominantly always go down to the basket, try to finish around the rim. Communication is key.”

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Both teams have high-level No. 2 scorers.

For Dallas, it’s Kyrie Irving. He averaged 26.5 points in the first round on 51.4% shooting.

Oklahoma City counters with Williams. The second-year forward averaged 21.3 points on 52.9% shooting, 7.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists in the first round.

RIM PROTECTORS

Gafford and Holmgren were among the league’s top shot blockers.

Holmgren, a finalist for Rookie of the Year, finished fifth in the league with 2.3 blocks per game.

Gafford, who is 6-10, was seventh in blocks at 2.1. He joined the Mavericks from the Washington Wizards in February as part of a three-team deal that also included the Thunder.

NEW GROUND

Oklahoma City is one of the youngest teams in the NBA and its sweep of New Orleans was its first playoff series victory since Gilgeous-Alexander was a 17-year-old high school junior.

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“We’re going to be in a lot of different situations,” Daigneault said. “That’s the beauty of going through this for the first time and we’ll learn from them as we have all year. We’ll learn from the good, the bad. If and when we lose a game, which I’m sure is coming at some point, we’ll see how we respond.”

TAGS: Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

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