Mikal Bridges on Guarding Luka Dončić’: ‘I Embrace the Challenge For Sure’

Mikal Bridges has proudly taken on the daunting task of guarding Luka Dončić’ in the Phoenix-Dallas Western Conference semifinal series.

Through 21 career playoff games,  Dončić’ has scored 32.5 points per game and is second only to Michael Jordan. The men tasked with guarding Dončić are Bridges, Chris Paul, Jae Crowder, and Deandre Ayton, who have combined to take a 3-2 series lead while being slightly effective in slowing down Dončić’. Bridges have guarded Luka Legend for 20 gametime minutes longer than any other Maverick this series.

“To play against unbelievable talent, it challenges me personally,” Bridges said after Game 1, per Sports Illustrated. “It makes me better as a player. I embrace the challenge for sure.”

In a perfect Phoenix defensive possession, Bridges would fight through a screen-and-roll, catch up with Dončić before he gets deep in the paint, giving Ayton, Javale McGee, or Bismack Biyombo enough time to recover to whoever sets a screen to free Dončić up to score. However, Dončić is an elite scorer for a reason. Dončić is proven to be adept at scoring in the midrange and is capable of hitting stepback triples.

The preferred Phoenix has for their Dončić coverage has had to be changed from drop coverage to Phoenix deciding to switch because Dončić is so lethal with the ball in his hands. Not only is Dončić scoring at will, but Dallas has been able to space the court due to Luka Legend being able to help Dallas average 11.5 corner three-pointers per game, up from 10.1 during the regular-season.

Dallas has shot nearly 41 triples a game through four games, including 44 in their Game 4 win. This is primarily due to Dončić exploiting Phoenix’s defense to open up Dallas’ shooters around the perimeter.

“I think you put all those things into one,” Crowder said about trying to stop Dončić and his sharp-shooting teammates. “Once you get in the game, you gotta read and react. You have to truly know the rotations; you have to know what your teammates are doing. Obviously, knowing your opponent is probably the No. 1 thing, and knowing what the Mavericks are trying to do on the offensive end.

“Dončić does a great job of reading the game and knowing where all his teammates are on the court. We’re playing chess right now.”

The Phoenix-Dallas series shifts back to Dallas for Thursday’s Game 6, with Phoenix looking to close the series out. The Sun’s best chance in doing so might be to allow Dončić to play one-one while blanketing the Mavericks’ shooters and phasing their other scorers out to test Dončić’s stamina.