The season ended for the Dallas Mavericks with Sunday’s 111-97 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers inside the NBA bubble. But the Mavs see this as a new beginning, the first part of a giant positive stepping stone to the future.
Not picked before this season to advance to the playoffs, the Mavs not only qualified for postseason play for the first time since 2016, they also won two playoff games against a team many predict will capture this season’s NBA title. And the Mavs did it without Kristaps Porzingis (knee) for the last three games, and without Dwight Powell (Achilles tendon), Jalen Brunson (shoulder) and Willie Cauley-Stein (birth of daughter) during their 54 days in the bubble.
”It’s a tough series for a lot of reasons,” Carlisle said after the Clippers won the first-round series, 4-2. “We were down some of our guys, which those kinds of things are going to happen.
“But today, the way that our guys fought through all the ups and downs of the game was something that can make all Mavs fans proud. It makes our organization proud, and we got a lot of great experience from being down here and being in the playoffs.”
The playoff stage certainly didn’t rattle Luka Doncic as the second-year point guard put up 38 points, nine rebounds and nine assists on Sunday.
“It was a great season,” Doncic said. “I’m proud of our team and how we fought. I think we fought until the end.”
Carlisle marveled at the way Doncic, 21, kept coming back and effectively producing against the Clippers, who have one of the most aggressive and arguably the best defensive team in the NBA.
“He’s one of the toughest players that I’ve ever seen in this league, and that goes back 35-36 years,” Carlisle said. “He is a great young player that is getting better each year.
“He was Rookie of the Year last year and this year he’s up for Most Improved (Player). I expect he’ll come back next year even better with something new in his game the same way that (Larry) Bird and Magic (Johnson) and (Michael) Jordan and all those great players did every summer.”
The Mavs were down by 23 points to the Clippers in the third quarter, but pecked away at that deficit until they were only down 88-82 with 9:27 remaining in the game following a 3-pointer by Doncic. That resiliency was one of the takeaways that the coaches relayed to the players in the locker room after the game.
“What was said was they appreciate us fighting hard,” forward Maxi Kleber said. “Even today, we never gave up.
“We kept fighting the whole game and that’s what we wanted to do the whole season.”
Carlisle credited assistant coach Jamahl Mosley for formulating a game plan that would best slow down the multiple attacks from All-Star forwards Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
“He just kept mixing things up and kept us aggressive,” Carlisle said of Mosley. “The Clippers would go on a run and we would stay right in their faces and make a quick run right back at them, and then they pulled away at the end. We bent, but we didn’t break in this game and I was proud of that.”
In a coronavirus pandemic-free world, Game 6 would have been played at American Airlines Center. That thought wasn’t lost on the Mavs before they played Sunday’s game that ultimately ended their season.
“This morning we talked about the fact that for a normal Game 6 we’d be going home to 20,000 people and we’d have a real advantage there, and we were going to have to find the energy amongst our family that’s here to fight and to give ourselves a chance, and they did,” Carlisle said. “Everybody was into it. You hate to lose, but the effort was phenomenally good.”
There also was some lessons learned that the hope will help them next season and beyond.
“I’m so proud of my team,” center Boban Marjanovic said. “I must be honest, because they worked so (hard). Of course, we miss KP and we missed a couple of players, but we stuck together, like a team, like a family.
“And it’s amazing what we’ve done so far with how we played. We won a couple of games and it’s an amazing feeling when I’m around these guys. Guys are disappointed, of course. It’s a tough game. Of course, it’s the playoffs, but we did our best.”
It was the first NBA playoff experience for almost half of the Mavericks. And with the playoffs shut down on Wednesday for three days following the shooting of Jacob Blake, the Mavs and remaining teams had to re-group and get their mind focused back on playing basketball.
“Today after being here 50-something days and going through everything that everyone went through this week, and being down – not only KP, but Powell and Brunson and not having Cauley-Stein, it would have been easy for our guys to just fold up,” Carlisle said. “And they didn’t.
“They refused to do that. They fought their butts off the entire game.”