Luka Doncic finally gave us the playoff performance we were waiting for as Real Madrid held off a stern fightback by Darussafaka Dogus to take a 2-1 lead in their Euroleague playoff series, writes Emmet Ryan
You all know the result already so let’s look at the main takeaways starting with strong showings from a Balkan duo.
Doncic steals the show
Having briefly looked like the 18 year old he actually is after the loss in Game 2, Luka Doncic returned to his usual mode of grown-ass-man who buries other grown-ass-man in Game 3. Darussafaka had managed to keep him out of the game for large parts of the opening two encounters but Pablo Laso’s switch to the starting line-up played heavily in the young Slovenian’s favour. Going with Doncic, Sergio Llull, Jeffrey Taylor, Anthony Randolph, and Gustavo Ayon as the starting five there was a blend of pace on both ends of the floor early for Madrid. Taylor, who has earned his fair share of criticism over the past two seasons, showed why he’s revered as an athletic defender in this encounter and that freed up space for the more creative operators around him.
No-one gained more from this than Doncic who delivered a 8 points and 3 rebounds in his opening stint to help Madrid run Darussafaka off the court early. This was a speedy blitz and the young Slovenian was clearly buoyed by a system that played to his strengths. It was harder for the home side to close him out of the game and once that happened, he was able to force himself more on the opposition. The final tally of 13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal reflected the nature of his game here as he was the guy going in more than a creator as such. This wasn’t a day for him to drop dimes, it was a day to drop bodies and he did so with vigour.
Zizic shows durability
There were two questions around Ante Zizic through his debut campaign in Euroleague. Did the 20 year old have sufficient aggression for this level? And could he log championship minutes at that pace? He had answered the former clearly in the positive by the end of the regular season and his impressive night here on offence certainly helped with the latter. Logging just over 28 minutes, his second most minutes at any stage of Euroleague this year, Zizic was effective throughout and finished with 20 points on 7 of 8 shooting and 6 of 7 free throws. His rebound tally of 5 pointed as much to the issues Dacka had on their own boards collectively (Real had 14 offensive rebounds, the hosts only managed 21 on D) than an individual issue. The Croat, who is being watched by every Celtics fan with an internet connection, did nothing to temper the expectations ahead of his expected jump across the Atlantic in the summer.
Oh, and he also did this
Smart strategy from Laso
There were two obvious aspects to Real’s game here which proved effective for the guts of 30 minutes, and proved crucial to their eventual victory. The decision to basically let Brad Wanamaker do anything but shoot kept the former Bamberg marksman at bay, save for the free throw line, until he finally got a chance to unleash in the final frame. Pablo Laso also took the calculated risk of letting Will Clyburn jack threes from wide open. Clyburn’s ability to penetrate the paint had proven Dacka’s biggest weapon so far in this series so Real’s defenders dropped back and dared Clyburn to go from deep, resulting in a mere 1 of 5 return. It was straight up I dare you ball and it worked.
Dacka aren’t done
The convenient thing to do, now that Madrid have reclaimed home court advantage, is to just pencil the top seeds into the Final Four. The rally by Darussafaka down the stretch showed that would be a tad foolhardy at such an early stage. Adrian Moerman and Scottie Wilbekin kept the hosts relevant through the third before Wanamaker finally got free as Real’s tired legs were unable to contain him any longer. The chase was thrilling but insufficient this time. The odious three point shooting of Dacka in the first half however made the mountain larger than it likely ought to have been and a carbon copy on Friday is far from certain. There is yet a twist to come in this series.