A Heartbreaking Defeat, but “a Really Positive Journey” for the Mavericks

With 2:37 remaining in Monday’s Game 5, down 21 points, the Dallas Mavericks effectively gave up and replaced every starter. Kyrie Irving crossed the floor to greet and offer congratulations to former teammates Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, as well as other Boston Celtics players.

When Irving got back to the bench, he gave his colleague Luka Doncic, a superstar who was finishing off his first NBA Finals appearance, a hug and some words.

“We said, ‘We’ll fight together next season, and we just going to believe,'” Doncic stated following the Mavericks’ defeat against the Celtics, 106-88, as they secured their unprecedented 18th NBA title.

Irving saw it as a “bitter” conclusion to a “really positive journey” for the Mavericks, who over the course of the previous season rebuilt the supporting cast around their star duo, winning the Western Conference despite coming back from a lottery finish.

The team expects the Mavs, captained by their 25-year-old five-time first-team All-NBA selection, to remain a contender for many more seasons.

“We answered a lot of questions this year on what we were capable of doing and now it’s just about being consistent,” Irving, who struggled once more at TD Garden, said after concluding Game 5 with 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting. “I think probably in the last week, I said that I wanted to be remembered as one of the best teams of this era and our last few champions have been a new one each and every year.

“So, I see an opportunity for us to really build our future in a positive manner where this is almost like a regular thing for us, and we’re competing for championships. You know, I think from a spiritual standpoint, I think I enjoyed this journey more than any other season, just because of the redemption arc and being able to learn as much as I did about myself and my teammates and the organization and the people that I’m around.”

Doncic wasn’t in the best of moods on Monday night after finishing the elimination game with 28 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, and 7 turnovers. He did, nonetheless, express that he was “great” about the franchise’s future.

Doncic made NBA history by being the first player to lead the team in postseason scoring (635), rebounds (208), assists (178), and steals (41). That was in spite of sustaining a thoracic contusion in the opening game of the Finals and a right knee strain in the first round that required pregame painkiller injections for the remainder of the series.

“It doesn’t matter if I was hurt, how much was I hurt,” Doncic stated. “I was out there. I tried to play but I didn’t do enough.”

But Doncic’s ability to participate for the Slovenian national team this summer is in doubt due to his ailments. On July 2, Slovenia will begin its Olympic qualifying competition in Greece.

Doncic remarked, “I don’t want to talk about what’s next, man.” “I have some decisions to make. I’m just trying to get a little bit healthier.”

Doncic, this season’s scoring champion and MVP finalist, has called his first Finals appearance a learning experience. He stated that the Mavs should follow the path taken by the Celtics, a team that is always in the running yet lost in the Finals two years ago.

“For him at the age of 25 to get to the Finals, to be playing his basketball at the level that he’s playing is, now it’s just being consistent,” Jason Kidd, the Dallas Mavericks coach, said. “When you have one of the best players in the world, you should be always fighting for a championship.”