SAN FRANCISCO — The initial reaction from Luka Doncić at the end of the longest playoff drive of his young NBA career was expressing his disappointment with himself.
“I don’t like losing, especially like this,” Doncic said after the Dallas Mavericks were eliminated Thursday night with a 120-110 Game 5 loss to the Golden State Warriors. “I played terrible.”
Doncic finished his final game of the season with 28 points, nine rebounds and six assists, but it was a performance that fell far short of his lofty standards, especially in potential elimination games. He was just 10-for-28 from the floor, including 3-for-13 from 3-point range, and often didn’t come back on defense after he missed.
Doncic scored 15 points as the Mavs rallied in the third quarter, but Dallas couldn’t overcome a deficit that grew to 25 points in part because of their poor performance in the first half, when they went just 2-for-12 from the floor with three turnovers. ball.
However, it was the 10th time in these playoffs that Doncic led Dallas in points, rebounds and assists, breaking the record set by Lebron James in 2013 for the most such games in a single postseason. He averaged 31.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 6.4 assists to lead the Mavericks, who hadn’t won a playoff series since the championship run in 2011, to the Western Conference finals.
“If we talk about our season, I’m very proud of this team: everyone, every player, every staff member,” Doncic said. “Nobody had us coming here. But I promise we fought to the end. Congratulations to the Warriors. Obviously, they were the best team. But I’m very proud of this team.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr described Doncic as “impossible to defend.” At 23, Doncic has already proven himself to be a historic elite offensive threat in the playoffs, joining Wilt Chamberlin as the only players in NBA history to average at least 30 points per game in each of their first three postseasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Doncic said he’s confident the Mavs are “on a great path” to becoming a championship team, but said he needs to significantly improve defensively for the team to reach those heights.
“I think I have to get better on defense,” said Doncic, who was frequently targeted by playoff opponents on that side of the floor. “Honestly, I think I took a big step this year defensively, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. I have to be a lot better there. I think that’s a place that can take us to the next level.”
Doncic also discussed the “great relationship” he developed with Mavs first-year coach Jason Kidd, a Hall of Fame point guard whose leadership on the floor played a key role in the Mavs’ only title. He emphasized his trust in Kidd, who has publicly challenged Doncic on a few occasions this season, such as calling him out for arguing with referees instead of running defense and challenging him to “play” defense.
Doncic earned his third straight All-NBA first-team selection despite having to play to get in shape. He showed up to training camp weighing more than 260 pounds for the second straight season, and didn’t serve as an MVP candidate until after taking three weeks off in December to recover from recurring ankle sprains and work on his conditioning.
Kidd didn’t specifically mention Doncic when he delivered the postgame message he sent to the Mavs in the locker room, but it seemed intended for the superstar, who will spend much of the offseason playing for the Slovenian national team.
“Now it’s about, what’s our appetite for next season?” Kidd said. “Are we going to tiptoe into the season or are we going to be hungry? So are we going to train this summer to understand what it means to play in May and June? Because it’s a long season.”
Doncic has made steady improvements since his Rookie of the Year campaign, like adding a shot fade away with one leg in the style of Dirk Nowitzky and polish your float. Mavs management anticipates Doncic will return to Dallas with even more.
“That’s what the greats do,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said. “He is a top 3, top 2 player in this league, and he will continue to improve. Some players, they are what they are. Not Luka. Luka will continue to improve.”
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Luka: ‘I played terrible,’ but proud of Mavs