When it was over – and, honestly, it was gone in the second quarter, left in the dust of a gale-force Golden State offensive thrust – the Mavericks didn’t need to hang their heads, curse their luck or shed a tear.
This was simply the end of a wildly successful step forward in a process that has all the appearances of a championship-building journey.
The Mavericks’ season came to a close Thursday night with a 120-110 loss to the Warriors at Chase Center. The Mavericks lost the Western Conference finals 4-1. Golden State goes on to face either Boston or Miami in the NBA finals.
The Mavericks will begin an offseason that will be full of promise that their future should be even brighter than these last six weeks have been.
“I don’t like losing, especially not like this,” said Luka Dončić, who did not have his best game, shooting just 10-of-28 on his way to 28 points. “I played like — terrible.
“But if we talk about the season, I’m really proud of this team, everybody, every player, every staff member. Nobody had us here. But I promise we fought to the end. Congratulations to the Warriors. They were obviously the better team. But I’m really proud of this team. This series, you could see the championship team the Warriors are. We got to learn how to be that. They were amazing every game. They deserved to win.”
The Mavericks had avoided a sweep on Tuesday in Game 4 at American Airlines Center, but they never led in Game 5
When they gave up 41 second-quarter points, the Mavericks fell behind by as much as 67-46. The deficit would reach 25 points in the third quarter before the Mavericks made a major push with a 15-0 blitz late in the period.
Dončić was only 2-of-12 from the field in the first half, but hit 8-of-16 shots in the second.
The Mavericks’ defense wasn’t particularly sharp, either. Klay Thompson went off for 32 points to make up for a rather pedestrian night from Steph Curry (5-of-17 for 15 points). That did not keep Curry from receiving the first Magic Johnson Trophy as the Western Conference finals MVP.
“I just told the guys that unfortunately we didn’t play our best game and the season ended,” coach Jason Kidd said. “We tip our hat to Golden State. They won the series. But we accomplished a lot. And it started with the two words we talked about: accountability and chemistry. And that’s who we are.
“We’ve come from October to the end of May playing when no one had us playing at the end of May. But those guys in that locker room believed.”
Early in their final game, the Mavericks’ defense was picked apart by Curry and Thompson, who dropped in 19 points before halftime, when the Warriors led 69-52 and the Mavericks were allowing Golden State to hit 56 percent from the field.
It wasn’t over. But the Mavericks were in deep trouble.
The Mavericks made it somewhat interesting with their third-quarter push that made it 92-84 late in the period. But the Warriors got the last bucket of the quarter and then outscored the Mavericks 7-2 to open the fourth quarter to push their lead back to 101-86.
The Mavericks would not get it back below 10 points the rest of the way. When Luka’s 3-pointer made it 110-100, Draymond Green got loose for a floater and, after a pair of offensive rebounds, the Warriors got Thompson’s 3-pointer to make it 115-100.
But when it was over, the Mavericks were not despondent. The mood was decidedly upbeat about the success of the season and the promise of the future.
“I think it means a lot, especially where we’ve been in the past,” Kidd said. “We’d be on our second vacation by now. To be able to make it to the Western Conference finals is a great accomplishment for this team. We have to go back, we’ll review the last three series and see where we can get better. And then we’ll spend time with the players this summer to make sure they’re working on the right things.”
And learn that playing this deep into the postseason takes a major toll, physically and mentally.
“Now it’s about what’s our appetite come next season,” Kidd said. “Are we just going to tiptoe into the season or are we going to be hungry. And then are we going to train this summer to understand what it means to play into May and June, because it’s a long season. And so, that was the summary. But what a great thing that group of guys in the locker room achieved this season.”
It was especially difficult to see Dončić struggle for the first half. He was much better in the second half, but the Mavericks simply had too much ground to make up. Luka was only 3-of-13 from 3-point range.
Meanwhile, the Warriors are going to the NBA finals for the sixth time in the last eight seasons. Under coach Steve Kerr, they are 18-0 in all playoff series against Western Conference opponents.
The Mavericks’ playoff run may have ended, but a terrific run it was. At the very least, they served notice that this is a team that should be a contender for years to come. And this also was a useful playoff run in the growth of Dončić as well as the franchise as a whole.
“You have to go through it,” Kidd said. “You have to understand, this is the first time out of the first round in a while, so I’m hopeful we can build on this.
“For him, this is the first time playing until late May. He’s played a lot of basketball. He’s going to have a quick turnaround here in September to participate for his country. But, we’re all going to go on a ride with him on this journey and hopefully at one of the years, if not this year, we can hold that trophy. That’s what it’s all about.”