In the NBA, the best individual rivalries originate in the postseason. That said, the rivalry between Devin Booker and Luka Doncic perfectly fits the bill.
Seeds of the rivalry were planted when Booker’s Suns met Doncic’s Mavericks in the 2022 Western Conference Semifinals. By the end of the seven-game series, those seeds had blossomed into full bloom.
During the series, the two traded barbs, their teams went back and forth and Doncic became a meme (the good kind) as his team quite literally got the last laugh in the series. In the time since, a meeting between the Mavs and Suns on opening night added fuel to the fire while a chippy late-season matchup in Dallas fanned the flames.
Now, they’re set to go head-to-head on Christmas Day.
Here’s how the league’s latest — and greatest — individual rivalry has come to be.
Luka Doncic vs. Devin Booker rivalry, explained
Before digging into the rivalry, it’s important to acknowledge that in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Suns passed up on Doncic to select Deandre Ayton as the No. 1 overall pick. To know that Phoenix could have paired Booker and Doncic is one of the more fascinating what-ifs in the league.
Whether or not Doncic holds that against the Suns is unknown, but given his competitive nature, it’s worth consideration. If nothing else, it adds a little extra to the dynamic, especially considering how things have worked out for everyone involved.
Fast forward to 2022, when Doncic and the Mavericks were the West’s fourth seed while Booker and the Suns earned the No. 1 seed after winning 64 games, the most in franchise history. Fresh off of a Finals loss, Phoenix was on a mission to win a championship, and in the Conference Semifinals, Dallas stood in the way.
After each team took care of home court in Games 1 through 4 of the series, things returned to Phoenix for a pivotal Game 5. During a 30-point blowout win, Booker was captured taking a dig at Doncic, theatrically laying on the floor after a foul before calling it, “The Luka Special.”
With the Mavericks now trailing 3-2 in the series, Doncic took a page out of Michael Jordan’s book as he left the floor, twice saying, “Everybody acting tough when they up,” seemingly noticing the news cameras in the tunnel.
It’s unclear whether or not Doncic caught wind of Booker’s “Luka Special” quip in-game, but it is clear that Phoenix was chatty during its Game 5 win, prompting Doncic to respond both off and on the court.
After staving off elimination with a Game 6 win, the Mavericks returned to Phoenix where they would embarrass the Suns in Game 7. Dallas entered halftime of Game 7 with a 57-27 lead. Doncic alone matched Phoenix’s point total with 27 points of his own, a fact he acknowledged after the game. And from it, a meme was born.
During Phoenix’s loss, a photo of Doncic’s troll-like smile at a stoic Booker took on a life of its own.
On March 5, 2023, the rivalry was reignited as Booker and Doncic got face-to-face late in a Suns win over the Mavericks.
In response to Doncic’s uncharacteristic miss of the potential game-tying layup late in the game, Booker appeared to say something that riled up his opponent, resulting in teammates stepping in to intervene.
Luka Doncic and Devin Booker going at it 👀pic.twitter.com/v0UKUZSHwg
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) March 5, 2023
After the game, Booker acknowledged that it’s all in the spirit of competition.
“You guys say you don’t want everybody to be friendly-friendly, there you go, we got some smoke,” Booker said.
“It’s just two competitors going at it. Everybody speaks on how friendly the NBA is now and don’t like that. I have no problem with Luka on or off the court, but when we’re competing, we’re competing.”
At 27, Booker is just entering his prime. And at 24, Doncic may not have even reached his yet.
Given their respective ages and standing in the league, this rivalry should only get better as time goes on.
Source : ESPN.com