Luka Doncic entered the Western Conference finals on top of the world. He had just led the Dallas Mavericks to a stunning seven-game upset over the top-seeded Phoenix Suns and was averaging 31.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game in the playoffs.
The magic did not continue on Wednesday night. Doncic finished with just 20 points, seven rebounds, four assists and seven turnovers on 6-of-18 from the field in the Mavericks' 25-point loss to the Warriors. This was the lowest-scoring and least efficient game of the playoffs for Doncic and also tied for his worst turnover game.
Wiggins set the tone
Andrew Wiggins spent the first five-plus seasons of his career focused on one thing: putting the ball in the basket. But with no shortage of scoring options on this Warriors team, he's had to adjust his approach since arriving in the Bay Area. He's become a much better defender and is often tasked with guarding the opponents' best player.
In the Western Conference finals, that means Luka Doncic. Dealing with the young phenom, who has been unstoppable at times in the playoffs, will be the biggest test of Wiggins' career. So far, he appears up to the challenge.
"I thought Wiggs was fantastic," Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. "Doncic is as difficult a cover as there is in this league and we asked Wiggs to try and hound him and guard him as best as he could and stay in front and try to keep the pressure on him. He did a fantastic job. Wiggs is just a huge part of our defense and our team. Great night for him."
Wiggins set the tone for the Warriors in Game 1 by being physical with Doncic and picking him up early. Time and again he would meet Doncic at halfcourt or even in the backcourt, forcing him to turn his back and start the offense well into the shot clock. (Wiggins actually gets away with a foul here that causes a big scratch on Doncic's face, but the overall point stands.)
Doncic is no stranger to this approach, but it's still difficult to deal with someone as big, strong and athletic as Wiggins pressuring you all night long. It's draining when you have to work that hard to get the ball over halfcourt and initiate the offense.
Keeping Doncic away from the basket
Many of Doncic's most famous highlights are 3-pointers, and it can be demoralizing when he heats up and starts cooking you with step-back 3s. But for his career, he's only been an average 3-point shooter. His 35.3 percent mark this season was a career-high and in the playoffs, he's shooting 34.3 percent.
He can make 3s, but he's at his best when he's getting downhill to finish in the paint, draw fouls and collapse the defense for kick-outs. While it's much easier said than done, your best chance for success against Doncic is if you can keep him on the perimeter shooting jumpers.
That's what the Warriors were able to do in Game 1. They mixed up their looks -- Kerr even broke out the box-and-one at times -- went under screens, kept Doncic in front off the dribble, and were always ready with help when necessary. As a result, Doncic had just seven attempts in the paint and launched 10 3s.
Even when he was able to get inside, it wasn't easy. He shot 3-of-7 in the paint, and one of those was a leak out. Just look here, as Klay Thompson stands him up in the post, and Kevon Looney arrives for the block. Even if Looney didn't get that one, it was going to be a tough look.
"Great job," Doncic said. "That's it. That's all I got to say. They did a great job."
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If there's one area of weakness for Doncic, it's that he can get a bit turnover prone at times. He had two nine-turnover games in the regular season -- including one against the Warriors -- and tied a playoff-high with seven turnovers in Game 1. This was also the first time in his postseason career that he's had more turnovers than made field goals.
While there were a few occasions where Doncic simply lost control of the ball, the Warriors forced most of them with tremendous pressure and timely help defense. Most notably, they forced Doncic into back-to-back turnovers during their big 10-0 run that broke the game open in the third quarter.
Here's Wiggins and then Looney staying in front of Doncic and forcing him to pivot right into Curry's help.
Later, Wiggins is all over Doncic on the drive and Draymond Green swipes the ball away with perfect timing.
"I just think our ball pressure and our help defense was spectacular tonight," Klay Thompson said. "If we want to take care of business on Friday we'll need a similar effort."