For all that Luka Doncic has accomplished in his three short years in the NBA and at the tender age of 22, what has he really accomplished?
“Nothing yet,” he said soberly after Sunday’s 116-111 Game 7 loss at Los Angeles Clippers. “We get paid to win, and we didn't do it.”
His supporters, including coach Rick Carlisle, have every reason to strongly disagree. Here, Luka scored a playoff career-high 46 points along with 14 assists and seven rebounds. His point total is one shy of an NBA Playoffs Game 7 record. His 77 points either scored or assisted on is a record.
Said teammate Dorian Finney-Smith: “He had 46 and 14; What else can you ask for from him?"
Added Carlisle: "Even before this series started, I think he's proven he's a top-five player in the world. This series certainly validates that. We've just got to keep building the team around him. This is going to be an important offseason on many levels."
That’s an important angle here - the lack of pretense that this roster, featuring Kristaps Porzingis as a “second banana” who spent seven games in this series never ripening - is truly not close to what the Clippers built.
Porzingis’ postgame quote when asked about his performance and his future - “There's a little bit of a mental battle because that's not what I'm used to and where I'm most comfortable” - is one that is all too typical of the things he says … And the things that he says do not often sit well with important people inside of this program.
Porzingis’ “introspection” now seems like a ruse, and the Mavs’ constant babying of his psyche seems like a mistake.
This was the third game this series that Doncic scored at least 40 points. Meanwhile, Porzingis averaged 13 points, five rebounds and one trey per game in these playoffs.
Had KP experienced just one star-turn outing in the series, Dallas advances. Instead, he was $158 million of “innocuous.”
So were most of the rest of Luka’s helpers, of course; in Game 7, incredibly, the Dallas bench managed to total just six points.
And sadly, while acknowledging that Doncic seems likely to alter the franchise arc someday soon, “innocuous” is a fitting word for what the Mavs are at this moment. For all the sound and the fury and the Luka, Dallas hasn’t won a playoff series in a decade.
“Losing in the first round,” said Carlisle, who is definitively part of the solution here, “is something we don't like doing."
Luka Doncic likes it least of all.