Doncic not ready to give up yet on title shot

Doncic not ready to give up yet on title shot
FOULED OUT. Luka Doncic fouled out with more than four minutes left in Game 3. / AP FOTO

DALLAS — Luka Doncic winced ever so slightly as he stepped onto the stage to address reporters a day after his Dallas Mavericks fell behind Boston 3-0 in the NBA Finals.

A rough first finals for the 25-year-old superstar, no doubt — an injury-filled postseason punctuated by fouling out for the first time in his playoff career, thanks to a four-foul fourth quarter in a 106-99 loss to the Celtics in Game 3.

Near the end of six seasons filled with comparisons to LeBron James, here’s another for Doncic. Just like the player he idolized as a teenager, Doncic is on the verge of having to weather failure on basketball’s biggest stage before getting more chances to experience the ultimate success.

“I didn’t really study the first finals of some people,” Doncic said Thursday, the eve of Game 4 in Dallas with the Celtics on the verge of an 18th championship, which would break a tie with the Los Angeles Lakers for the most in the NBA.

Doncic did remember the first Eastern Conference finals — two, actually — for Michael Jordan in Chicago a generation ago.

“Obviously, there’s the story of MJ against Detroit,” the five-time All-Star said. “That was a big thing. I think he just learned from it. You’ve got to go through lows first to go on top. I think that’s great experience.”

After finally breaking through against the Pistons, Jordan won the title in his first trip to the NBA Finals in 1991, the start of a 6-0 run in the title series over an eight-season span.

Doncic is at risk of the same fate in his first finals as James, who was swept with Cleveland against San Antonio in 2007. James lost again with Miami — against Dallas, no less — in 2011 before winning back-to-back titles with the Heat.

Asked if he thought his game could improve in the offseason, Doncic said, “Oh, definitely, a lot of holes,” before reiterating he would learn plenty from his first finals. Then he paused.

“But we’re not in the offseason yet,” Doncic said. “They’ve still got to win one more game. Like I said, we’re going to believe until the end.”

The end is near for Dallas because Doncic didn’t get enough help from co-star Kyrie Irving in the first two games, or from his supporting cast in any of the first three.

Still, the Slovenian sensation has had his own difficulties, particularly in Game 3. The Celtics relentlessly targeted Doncic’s defense, which has been solid to good overall in these playoffs.

The four fouls came so quickly in the fourth quarter, his sixth forced a challenge that Dallas lost with 4:12 remaining. The Mavs were on a 20-2 run when Doncic was disqualified, and scored again to get within a point before Boston held on to avoid blowing a 21-point lead with 11 minutes remaining. / AP


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