SAN FRANCISCO – Luka Doncic’s initial reaction to the end of the longest interlude of his NBA career was to express his disappointment in himself.
“I don’t like losing, especially like this,” Doncic said after the Dallas Mavericks were eliminated Thursday night with a 120-110 loss in Game Five against the Golden State Warriors. “You played terrible.”
Doncic finished his last game of the season with 28 points, nine rebounds and six assists, but he has been far below his highs, especially in potential elimination matches. He was only 10 of 28 off the ground, including 3 of 13 from a 3-point range, and he often failed to return to defense after his mistakes.
Doncic scored 15 points with the Mavis rushing in the third quarter, but Dallas was unable to overcome a deficit that ballooned to 25 points in part due to his poor first-half performance, when he was only 2 of 12 off the ground with three turnovers.
However, it was the 10th time in this playoff that Doncic led Dallas in points, rebounds and assists, breaking LeBron James’ 2013 record for most such games in the post-season. He averaged 31.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 6.4 assists to lead the Mavericks, who last won a playoff series during the 2011 franchise championship, to the Western Conference finals.
“If we talk about our season, I’m really proud of this team – everyone, every player, every member of the team,” Doncic said. “We had no one here. But I promise you we fought to the end. Congratulations to the Warriors. They were clearly the better team. But I’m really proud of this team.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr described Doncic as “impossible to guard”. At the age of 23, Doncic has already proven to be a historic offensive threat to the elite in the playoffs, joining Wilt Chamberlain as the only player in NBA history averaging at least 30 points per game in each of the first three seasons, according to stats and information. ESPN .
Doncic said he is confident the Mavis are “on a great path” to become a championship team, but said he needs to take big defensive strides for the team to reach those heights.
“I think the defense should be better for me,” said Doncic, who was often targeted by opponents in the playoff. “Honestly, I think I’ve taken a big step this year defensively, but there is a lot of room for improvement. I have to be a lot better there. I think this is one place that can take us to the next level.”
Doncic also discussed the “great relationship” he developed with first-year Muffs coach Jason Kidd, a Hall of Fame keeper whose leadership on the field played a key role in the Muffs’ only title. He emphasized his confidence in Kidd, who has publicly challenged Doncic on a few occasions this season, such as his call to argue with referees rather than backing off the defense and his challenge to “participate” in defence.
Doncic earned his first-team selection for the third consecutive time in the NBA despite having to play his way into shape. Reported to a 260-pound boot camp for the second consecutive season, he only performed like an MVP candidate after taking three weeks off in December to recover from recurring ankle sprains and work on conditioning.
He did not specifically mention Kid Doncic when relaying a post-match message he sent to Maves in the locker room, but this appears to have been intended for the star, who will spend most of his time playing for the Slovenian national team.
“Now it comes down to, what’s our appetite for next season?” Kidd said. “Are we going to play on tiptoe in the season or will we be hungry? Then, 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, such as adding a one-legged Dirk Nowitzki-esque fade and polishing pontoon. The Mavs management expects Doncic to return to Dallas with more than that.
“That’s what great people do,” said Mavs Governor Mark Cuban. “He is a top three player in the league, and he will continue to improve. Some players, who they are. This is not Luca. Luca will continue to improve.”