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Monday, August 24, 2020

Doncic Lets His Game Do His Talking

There are doers and there are talkers. Anyone can be a talker, but only people who have talent, focus, and determination can be doers. Some doers are also talkers, but their talk has meaning only because they are doers. Muhammad Ali, Reggie Jackson, and Deion Sanders are three examples of athletes who earned the right to talk by performing at a high level and winning championships. You may not like what they said or how they said it, but you had to respect their talent, their focus, and their determination. I respect non-talking doers like Julius Erving, Tim Duncan, and Kawhi Leonard, but I also respect Ali, Jackson, and Sanders because they put in the work to make sure that their deeds matched up to their boastful words.

The Dallas Mavericks' second year wunderkind Luka Doncic has not won a championship, but he seems to understand the difference between talking and doing. In game three of Dallas' first round series versus the L.A. Clippers, Montrezl Harrell directed profane comments at Doncic that included a derogatory mentioning of Doncic's skin color. Doncic answered in game four not with talking but with a whole lot of doing: 43 points, 17 rebounds, 13 assists, and a game-winning three point shot at the buzzer during overtime as Dallas defeated L.A. to tie the series at 2-2. Only two other players in NBA playoff history have had a 40-15-10 triple double: Oscar Robertson and Charles Barkley. Doncic also tied Barkley for the second most points scored in a playoff triple double, trailing only Russell Westbrook's 51.

It is interesting that the NBA has not disciplined Harrell, or even issued a public statement condemning what he said and making it clear that his conduct is unacceptable in the NBA. The league has previously issued substantial fines for various comments made by players during games, so the league's silence here is deafening. The NBA has to decide if it opposes demeaning language based on race, religion, sexual preference, or other categories. It is not acceptable that some categories of people are protected while others are not. Various media outlets reported that Harrell's Coach Doc Rivers told Harrell that what Harrell said is not acceptable. We also saw Harrell and Doncic speak to each other before game four. Harrell apologized to Doncic, and Doncic accepted Harrell's apology.

TNT's Charles Barkley rightly decried the NBA's double standard, while Shaquille O'Neal asserted that a different code applies to players during games because in the heat of the moment players say things that they do not really mean. Kenny Smith said that Harrell's remarks could be seen as "racist" but not "racism" because "racism" means that a person has power over another person. Smith said that Harrell has no power to keep Doncic out of the NBA, so Harrell is not engaging in racism. I don't know what Harrell thinks or feels in his mind and in his heart, but a racist comment is a racist comment based on the words and the context, not based on the skin color of the speaker. As Ernie Johnson noted, there is a difference between saying something like "That white boy is bad"--expressing admiration for a white player achieving success in a sport dominated by black players--and saying what Harrell said the way that Harrell said it. We know that Harrell's comment was not a compliment; only Harrell knows if it was a heat of the moment outburst, or an expression of racism--but we know that many times when a person makes a joke or makes a heat of the moment outburst that joke or outburst provides a glimpse into how that person really thinks/feels.

Smith agreed with Barkley that what Harrell said is not acceptable, and he also acknowledged O'Neal's point that NBA players often say things of that nature during games; Smith called this a "habit" that NBA players need to break.

Barkley's point is 100% correct. O'Neal may be right that players often talk like this, but Smith is right that players should stop doing this. Regarding the difference between "racist" and "racism," the dictionary definition of racism is "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race." There is a movement to redefine racism so that power is an essential component of the definition, but that is a distortion worthy of George Orwell's "1984." We should reject the notion that a person must be exercising power to be a racist; if you judge people based on race (or any characteristic other than their behavior, actions, and accomplishments) then you are a racist and you are engaged in racism. We already have words that encompass the power dynamic: when racism is combined with power then you have persecution and/or discrimination. It is flawed and dangerous thinking to promote the idea that certain people or certain groups of people cannot be racist because those people or those groups have been persecuted in the past or are being persecuted now.

Back to the game, and Doncic's dominance. Doncic was a game-time decision due to the sprained ankle that he suffered in the previous game, but he did not use his injury as an excuse or even talk about it unless he was asked about it. The Mavericks trailed by 21 points in the first half and they were without the services of Kristaps Porzingis--a late scratch due to a knee injury--but they kept battling and playing hard. The Philadelphia 76ers could learn a lot from watching the Mavericks.

Before the series, I picked the Clippers to win in six games because I expected Kawhi Leonard to perform at a high level at both ends of the court while I expected Doncic to perform at a high level only on offense. Doncic is far from being an elite defender like Leonard, but Doncic is so effective as a scorer/rebounder/playmaker that his contributions in those categories more than compensate for any relative defensive deficiencies. I think that the Clippers will win the next two games, but it will not be easy for them, and they could be staring down elimination in game seven if they do not tighten up their defense.

Leonard finished with 32 points, nine rebounds, and four assists. For most players that would be an exceptional performance, but by Leonard's high standards this was not a great game. He shot 10-22 from the field, and he missed a shot that could have won the game in regulation. Leonard had a -13 plus/minus number, suggesting that he did not control the game the way that he usually does. His teammate Lou Williams scored a game-high 36 points off of the bench.

Harrell had two points, one rebound, and one assist in 17 minutes. Paul George also had a "triple single": nine points, eight rebounds, three assists. George shot 3-14 from the field. Poor shooting has been a pattern for George throughout the series and, indeed, throughout his playoff career. At some point, this is not a "slump," but it is just who you are. Only a few games ago, George made fun of Damian Lillard for missing two free throws in a late game situation, and I suggested that a player who has never won anything is not an authority on what it takes to win. More recently, George provided a profane reply on social media to anyone who criticized his playoff performances. Remember, George gave himself the nickname "Playoff P." Giving yourself a nickname rarely turns out well, and is inadvisable for anyone who has never won anything of substance; George has never reached the NBA Finals, and his career playoff field goal percentage is .418, including four playoff campaigns (out of nine) during which he shot worse than .400. George's field goal percentage through four games versus Dallas is below .300, so I don't want to see him at press conferences or on social media or in advertisements; the only place he should be seen outside of a game is in a gym working on his broken shooting stroke.

I picked the Clippers to win the 2020 NBA championship, and I stand by that selection not because of George or Harrell but because I believe in Kawhi Leonard and Doc Rivers. However, I wonder if Kawhi Leonard looks at his focused, tough-minded former teammates in Toronto and possibly regrets his decision to abandon them to move to L.A.

The bottom line is that Paul George and Montrezl Harrell have combined to win zero championships. Why are they talking? George and Harrell need to talk less and do more. If Doncic were so inclined, he could provide a one word retort to Harrell and any other mouthy Clippers: "Scoreboard."

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:40 AM



At Monday, August 24, 2020 12:38:00 PM, Anonymous Michael said...

I saw Paul George for the first time in person earlier this year when the Clippers played the Pistons. Everyone knows how long and athletic he is but the point is really driven home when you see him in person. It was a very Paul George type of game: he was great in the first half and then missed the entire second half with a hamstring injury. He has the two-way ability and physical build of a legit superstar but the durability, consistency and intangibles just aren't there. The Clippers don't need him to play like a superstar but they do need to get at least 20 ppg on no worse than .400 from him and they absolutely didn't sign up for 15.3 ppg on .290 when they traded all that they did for him. He certainly has time to redeem himself but a player who finished third in MVP voting last year has no business playing this poorly and the fact that he finished so highly really just highlights how flawed the voting process for MVP can be.

At Monday, August 24, 2020 3:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Paul George has the height, length, and quickness "of a legit superstar" but I am not sure if he has the "build." He seems slender and a bit fragile/injury prone. He has a long record of coming up short in big games. He does not have the mentality necessary to be the best player on a championship team, but he seems to think that he is that kind of player. It is amazing how good Russell Westbrook made George look last season. Kawhi Leonard is going to have to do a lot of heavy lifting to carry George to a title, but I still believe that Leonard is up to the task.

At Monday, August 24, 2020 4:56:00 PM, Blogger EHR said...

I think the Clippers are missing Patrick Beverly and his defense. Reggie Jackson is getting thrashed by Doncic on pick and rolls and switches. Mavs have made him and clipper bigs the targets for their pick and roll offense.

Leonard should’ve stayed in Toronto. Everything was/is better in Toronto, top to bottom, than clipper nation.

At Monday, August 24, 2020 6:37:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...


I agree with everything you said except "The Clippers don't need him to play like a superstar." They absolutely do. They traded a king's ransom away for Playoff P -- a trade that will hamstring the franchise for years to come even if they do win the championship this year.

As a reminder, the Clippers traded a future all-star point guard (Shai) in a league dominated by perimeter guards; a starting caliber stretch power forward (Gallo) whose played effecively at the center position; FIVE future first round picks...I repeat, FIVE future firsts; AND if that weren't enough, 2 additional pick swaps. This is worse then the Nets debacle a decade ago that crushed the franchise for years.

All for a guy so grateful to be back home, that he and Kawhi committed to the franchise for 2 whole years. (Who can forget PG flip-flopping about wanting to come to the Lakers, etc.)

So, the Clippers could be without their superstar and their...whatever George is...and any semblance of rebuilding through the draft for the next half decade +.

It was a terrible trade then (trading for an injury prone all-star who hasn't proven anything other than popping off at the mouth and cheating on Doc Rivers' daughter) and it's looking worse and worse by the day.

While he had a bad first game, over his last two, SGA has averaged 27/4/6 and 2.5 steals on 50-40-90 splits. And he's 22 years old.

I used to like PG for all the reasons you mention. But, I've since lost all respect for him and am crushed as an LA fan that we gave up so much to get him.

(Typically I wouldn't bring someone's personal life into basketball related discussions, but Paul George has had a laundry list of poor personal life choices...when someone continues to make bad choices off the court, and then can't seem to get it right on the court when it matters most, I think it's relevant to the discussion of whether a franchise should or should not invest in said player.)

At Monday, August 24, 2020 7:05:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Clippers took a calculated risk that George would provide enough help to Leonard to get the team over the hump and win at least one title. This is a little like what Toronto did with Leonard: they knew that he may not stay--and they traded a perennial All-Star to acquire him--but they were willing to roll the dice that they would win at least one title before he left.

I assume that, regardless of what the Clippers say publicly, they know George is not a number one guy, and not a superstar. Leonard wanted to play with George, though, so signing George was probably necessary to get Leonard. If the Clippers win at least one title then this was worth it, even if Leonard and/or George leave--unless you believe that the Clippers were going to win a title with what they had plus the assets they traded. I would rather have Leonard plus George and this supporting cast now then speculate about how good those draft picks would be in the future.

So, even if this doesn't result in a title that does not mean that the Clippers made a mistake. Jeff Van Gundy often says that you don't decide if a shot was good or not based on whether or not the shot is made; you can miss a good shot (and you can make a bad shot). Thus, I think that the Clippers took a good "shot" here, and I will still think that even if they don't win a title with this group.

I agree with a lot of what you said about George, and I agree that he needs to play better, but I could see the Clippers winning without George playing at a superstar level. Who played at a superstar level next to Leonard last season? For that matter, who was the other superstar when Leonard won his Finals MVP for the Spurs? Duncan was hardly a superstar by that point.

At Monday, August 24, 2020 10:50:00 PM, Anonymous Michael said...


I'm sure the Clippers aren't currently thrilled that they gave up everything they did to have Paul George average 15.3 ppg on .290 through the first four games of the first round, especially considering how well Gallinari and Gilgeous-Alexander have played for OKC, but the trade was definitely the right thing to do at the time for the reasons David mentioned and ideally Paul George would live up to his full ability as a player. That's starting to look less and less likely but the Clippers really just need him to play near his average level and to not be completely awful throughout the playoffs as he has been so far. You never know with George, but I would like to think that he will snap out of this eventually and play near or even slightly better than his career playoff average of 19.8 ppg on .415, similarly to Dwyane Wade's role on the consecutive Miami championships when he was no longer able or expected to perform at a superstar level. Of course, Wade was already a proven champion with a 34.7 ppg Finals MVP performance under his belt while George has accomplished nothing of the sort.


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