July 19, 2024

Brighton Journal

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Dallas star Luka Doncic follows in the footsteps of LeBron, MJ and Olajuwon with a familiar lesson

Dallas star Luka Doncic follows in the footsteps of LeBron, MJ and Olajuwon with a familiar lesson

BOSTON — A star struggling to win his first NBA championship is not a new story. It’s been woven into NBA history.

22-year-old LeBron James shot 35.6% from the field and 20% on 3-pointers in his first NBA Finals against San Antonio in 2007. He struggled to come back the next three seasons, and when he returned for his second Finals in 2011, Dallas took away his strengths and exploited his weaknesses.

Michael Jordan had three straight first-round losses, a second-round loss and two straight conference finals losses in six seasons before breaking through and winning his first title seven years into his career.

Hakeem Olajuwon reached the Finals in his second season, lost to Boston, and did not return and win the championship until eight years later. Jerry West lost in seven straight Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers before finally winning the title.

And of course, newly crowned champions Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics suffered multiple setbacks in the playoffs before finally winning the championship.

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Their playoff setbacks and the lessons learned from those losses made them better players and helped them understand how important every possession was.

Now, it’s Dallas star Luka Doncic’s turn to learn, grow and come back as a better player with the hope that he can lead the Mavericks to a title one day after Boston won Game 5 on Monday.

“They’re a great team,” Doncic said after Game 5 as the Celtics celebrated on the court. “They’ve been together for a long time, they’ve had to go through everything, so we just have to look at them and see how they play, their maturity, and they’ve got some great players. We can learn from that. We should fight next season.”

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Luka Doncic watches his shot during Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

Luka Doncic watches his shot during Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

When asked about his feelings, Doncic said: “It is sad that we lost.”

The Mavs added Kyrie Irving last season, PJ Washington and Daniel Gafford at the trade deadline this offseason. They peaked at the right time, beating three 50-win teams in the Western Conference playoffs.

“I would say we were together for five months,” Doncic said. “I’m proud of everyone who stepped on the floor, all the coaches, all the people behind them. Obviously we didn’t win the Finals, but we had a great season and I’m proud of every single one of them.”

Mavs general manager Nico Harrison needs to continue to reshape the roster, as did Celtics president Brad Stevens until he found the right group of players.

Doncic, 25, has had good and bad moments in the Finals. In the series, Doncic averaged 29.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.6 steals and shot 47.2% from the field. But he also shot 24.4% on 3-pointers, 58.6% on free throws, and committed 4.6 turnovers per game.

The Celtics’ offensive and defensive versatility made the game difficult for Doncic on both ends. Boston used multiple defenders against him, didn’t have to double team him like other teams had to do, and had him spend his energy on the defensive end.

They were very physical. “They have great defenders,” Doncic said. “They’re a great team. That’s what they do.

He absorbed most of the criticism after Game 3 when he fouled out with 4:12 remaining on a three-point play, was 11-for-27 from the field, 1-for-7 on 3s, complained a lot about the referee and wasn’t. At his best defensively.

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But he rebounded in Game 4 with his best performance and made sure the Mavs avoided elimination. He scored 29 points, five rebounds and five assists. His 28 points on 12-for-25 shooting (2-for-9 on 3s) plus 12 rebounds, five assists, three steals and seven turnovers weren’t enough in Game 5.

“There’s going to be bumps and bruises along the way. For him at 25 years old to get to the Finals and play basketball at the level he’s playing at, it’s now consistent,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said.

“Again, to always be in the conversation for the MVP award because when you have one of the best players in the world, you should always be fighting for the championship.”

Throughout the playoffs, the Mavs listed Doncic on the injury report with multiple injuries — first a right knee sprain and left ankle soreness, then a chest contusion that required pain-relief shots in the Finals.

“It didn’t matter if I got hurt, how much I got hurt. I was there. I tried to make plays, but I didn’t do enough,” Doncic said.

Doncic said that he would soon decide to play for Slovenia as it seeks to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics, but he said: “I’m just trying to get a little healthier.”

Follow NBA reporter Jeff Zelgitt on social media @jevzelgate

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Luka Doncic’s path may mirror that of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown