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An immaculate season

An unapologetically positive send off for a Dallas Maverick season we won’t soon forget. 

2022 NBA Playoffs - Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

By Marci Wiemer, reader of Mavs Moneyball and relentless Mavericks fan

“If you don’t believe, you shouldn’t be here.” Luka said it best. How many of us believed we would be here? The final four. The Western Conference finals. In the history of the Mavericks franchise, there have been four Western Conference finals appearances. Now five. And one championship. Multiple teams have had far less success. Six NBA franchises have never even made it to the Finals, let alone won a championship. Making the NBA conference finals is exceedingly hard and it is a big deal. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. We were one of the best teams in the league after the calendar flipped ending the season 52-30. Continually trending upward after the All-Star break. We showed our resilience time and time again. A double-digit lead was never safe against this squad. The team chemistry was off the charts. As Jalen Brunson often reminds us, the vibes are immaculate.

So why not these Mavericks? They absolutely deserved to be in the final 4. It’s not a fluke. It’s not luck. You don’t make it to the Western Conference finals by accident. They had the mental fortitude to prevail over a healthy and desperate Jazz team despite the sudden and unexpected loss of Luka Doncic for three games. Will the AAC ever feel more euphoric than Game 2 of the Jazz series? Speaking of mental fortitude, how about climbing out of an 0-2 deficit to the number one team in the NBA? A locked and loaded Phoenix Suns team, which had “Championship Or Bust” aspirations. Spoiler alert: they busted. If Game 2 of the Jazz series was euphoric, then Game 6 of the Suns series was electric! The American Airlines Center earned 6th man honors that night.

And then there was Game 7 against Phoenix. Luka Doncic was smiling. Dirk Nowitzki was smiling. MFFLs everywhere were smiling. NBA Twitter was having a moment. We were all having a good time! Well, not everyone...

And then there were four. There were moments of joy, big leads and big buckets. With their backs against the wall in Game 4 of the Golden State series, the Mavericks showed the fight and resolve they displayed all season, winning the game and sending the series back to San Francisco. That same battling spirit emerged in the second half of Game 5, but ultimately, it wasn’t enough to beat the Warriors.

It’s hard to not lament over what could have been. The “what-ifs?” What if we had hit a few more threes? What if we had fresher legs to hit more shots? What if we called a timeout earlier?

Do yourself a favor and bounce those thoughts out of your mind like Jalen bounced Devin Booker into oblivion on his drive to the basket.

The open looks were there. They didn’t always fall. We were deservedly tired. Our dynamic, defensive (and offensive) duo logged more minutes than anyone in the playoffs. Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith, take a bow, and then a nap.

We were up against a veteran team who had played two less games, had a little more depth and was able to convert a little more offense.

No shame in losing to a worthy opponent.

If heart and effort alone won championships, these Mavericks would be heading to the NBA Finals. Witnessing the team’s chemistry ignite as the season progressed was thrilling.

We didn’t win the final series, but the 2021-2022 season was nothing short of victorious. Despite being dismantled by Covid and injuries, integrating a new coaching staff and system (Defense! Defense!), and adjusting to your average, everyday mid-season trade(!!), this team secured home court advantage in a grueling Western Conference standings battle. And. Then. Made. The. Western. Conference. Finals. What a ride!

It’s a season we will never forget, and a team we will always love.

So let’s reminiscence...

Jalen Brunson

He brought immaculate vibes all season, but his playoff performance had everyone shook. In a pivotal game 2 vs the Jazz, he erupted for 41 points! He kept our season alive during Covid and injury upheaval and he did it again on the biggest stage. With Luka out to begin the playoffs, when we needed him most, Brunson elevated his game and found a way to win. And the elevation never stopped. And if Jalen has shown us anything, he’s not going to stop. On a team that stresses the importance of accountability, no one challenges themselves to improve more than Brunson. From Game 1, his personal growth was evident. By game 100, we were all believers. A Brunson burner on full blast. Fire it up!

Dwight Powell

On a team oozing with heart, Powell is unquestionably the heartbeat. His effort and efficiency throughout the season cannot be praised enough. The Luka to Dwight lob is a thing of beauty! He was one of only five players in the entire NBA to play all 82 games. One of five! He even garnered praise on Twitter from Kevin Durant, “S/O Dwight Powell, made that Achilles recovery look like nothing. Love.”

As unselfish as he is driven as he is dependable. No one works harder. And no one is better dressed. You can’t spell dapper without Dwight Powell.

Maxi Kleber

Speaking of heart, Maxi has it. He was a defensive pillar all year. How many shots got blocked by the Wurzburg Wall?! Despite an end of the year shooting slump, his defensive effort was consistently impactful. Coach Kidd and the team have full confidence in him and it never wavered. We knew his incredible defense would be there when the playoffs began, but that shooting slump was nowhere to be found! As beloved commentator Mark Followill proclaimed with glee during Game 2 of the Jazz series, “What has gotten into Maxi?!” The roof almost blew off the AAC when he hit back-to-back triples on his way to making 8 of 11 three-pointers that game. The hot shooting didn’t end there. Nor did the defense. Not even close. The handsome face of Maxi “Call Me” Kleber haunted opponents and fans all playoffs.

Dorian Finney-Smith

Is there anything better than a clutch corner three from Doe Doe? No? No. Not only is he clutch, he’s a relentless defender, often tasked with the hardest assignment. Ask Donovan Mitchell about being guarded by Doe. He earned votes on this year’s all defensive team, but opposing players and coaches would tell you he should have gotten more. Tough, hardworking, humble. Did I mention tough? A player like him is highly coveted on any NBA team. He is also highly coveted by MFFLs. A fan favorite. Thankfully, he signed an extension with the Mavericks and earned himself a well deserved payday. There might be one thing better than a DFS corner three...a Doe Doe post game interview. We can all agree with his reflection on the season, “I wish somebody would’ve told me the playoffs was this fun.”

Ferrari Doe 4ever.

Reggie Bullock

Reggie brought so much more than sharp shooting to this team. And he is one hell of a sharp shooter. He completely shaped their identity. A hard-nosed team that never quits. That’s Reggie. His defensive tenacity paired alongside Dorian Finney-Smith laid the foundation of success. Even when playing almost full 48 minute games in the playoffs, even through injuries, he never let up. And then he’d come down the court and cash a huge three-pointer when the team needed it most. In fact, he made over 50 of them during the playoff run. That is a record for the most three-pointers in a single postseason in Dallas franchise history.

His accomplishments extend beyond the court. He was chosen to receive the Kareem Abdul-Jabber Social Justice Champion award. Influencing change on and off the court. That’s our guy. *Insert bull emoji*

Spencer Dinwiddie

Or is it WinWiddie? Because getting this guy was a huge W. He’s what we didn’t know we needed. Nico knew. Who could forget the clutch back-to-back winning threes against the Celtics and the Nets?! He fit seamlessly into our system and helped propel our late season surge. In the playoffs, he continually stepped up at crucial times. The dagger three-pointer at the top of the key against Utah and the monster dunk over Rudy Gobert in game 3 were huge. Watching him match buckets with Luka in game 7 was enthralling. The first teammates to score 30+ in a game 7 since Kobe and Shaq. Whoa. Despite the loss, he went out swinging with a great game 5 against the Warriors. It was a pleasure to welcome him to the Mavericks. Winwiddie, indeed.

Davis Bertans

Our Latvian laser! Choose one: a Davis quick-fire three or a Davis driving dunk?! Impossible to choose. Bertans brought an undeniable synergy to the court. His full blown effort at all times was needed and appreciated. He had huge moments throughout the season, but none were bigger than his timely threes during the playoffs. In game 3 of the Jazz series, he was instrumental in building the early lead with 15 points on 4/7 three-point shooting. Not to mention his uncanny ability to hit a three in an opponent’s face, while getting fouled, while flashing them a huge grin as they became enraged. In a fight, my money is on Davis.

Josh Green

I see your Latvian laser and I raise you one Australian sugar glider. Josh Green made huge strides in the regular season. He radiates energy. It beams off of him like a super power. He glides through the air, like, well, a sugar glider. When he enters the game, you can feel the dynamic stir and shift. His confidence grew throughout the season, culminating in his enormous impact during game 3 of the Jazz series when he scored 12 points and had 6 assists in crucial minutes.

Coach Jason Kidd had high praise, “Josh, in that first half, was incredible.”

His energy, effort, and athleticism are constant variables. He has soaring potential. Literally.

Frank Ntilikina

It’s not easy to win a playoff series. It’s even harder to beat a #1 seed. But the Mavs had a secret weapon. Frankly, Frank changed the series. His defensive effort against Devin Booker was undeniably impactful. Despite not playing consistently, when called upon, he was ready for the responsibility. The poise he showed on such a big stage was impressive and encouraging. Better yet, he’s only 23 years old. The future is bright for the French Prince.

Tim Hardaway Jr.

Oh Timmy, how we missed you. His offensive presence would have been invaluable during the Warriors series. It may have been the missing piece. It is a cruel irony that he suffered his broken foot injury during a regular season Warriors game. But every cloud has a silver lining, and this season revealed the true character of Tim Hardaway Jr. Seeing him on the bench supporting his team through every up and down was inspiring.

One would assume that a person with a broken foot should sit down, but Tim was on his feet the entire season. Even in his boot, he was hobbling around excited and engaged. It’s easy to sulk and become discouraged and disinterested when facing an obstacle like his injury. He did the opposite. It was impossible to watch a game and not feel hopeful when Tim and Theo were on the sidelines. If they believed, so could we. If they could stand up and cheer, so could we. Now heal up and kiss the bench goodbye. Time to play.

Theo Pinson

Theo arrived on a 10-day Covid hardship contract, and lucky for us, he never left. Coach Kidd called him the MVP for the positive energy he brought to the team and Spencer Dinwiddie, with whom Pinson has a long history, has continuously praised him as being the best teammate. This is all true, but his performance in the final game of the season was also MVP caliber.

After losing Luka to a calf injury, it would have been salt in the wound to lose that game to the Spurs. The win didn’t technically mean anything for standings at that point, but ending the season with a victory felt important. In a fervent final push for the third seed, Coach Popovich rested the Spurs starters the game prior versus the Warriors, easing their path to securing that third seed, only to then play his starting lineup well into the 4th quarter against the Mavericks the next game. Maybe he was trying to avoid the Spurs series ending in a sweep for the first time in franchise history. Maybe it was a coincidence...

Regardless, we swept the series and it’s largely due to Theo’s 4th quarter performance. He scored 16 points shooting a perfect 5/5 from the field and 4/4 from three-point range. His expert level trolling of Rudy Gobert’s big feet is a cherry on top.

Trey Burke

Trey Burke stays ready. In a season of 82 games, specific moments come to mind. Luka joyfully welcoming an irritated Brunson to the bench with a hug after they both picked up 5 fouls early in the 3rd quarter against the Atlanta Hawks is one of those moments. Enter Trey Burke. His superb point guard play off the bench was pivotal in maintaining the lead and getting a victory. After recent losses to the Magic and Thunder, it was a huge win and Burke played a key role. His contributions continued the following game when he scored 18 points against the Pistons. Like Harp would say, Trey Burke will get you a bucket.

Boban Marjanovic

“We want Boban!” Admittedly, the Boban chants can feel uncomfortable. He is more than a late game party trick. But ultimately, it’s just love. He is beloved and hopefully he understands the chants are an expression of that. After a career of being the fan favorite wherever he goes, surely he does. He is respected league-wide and is known to be the hardest worker in any gym. The energy he brings to the team and the WORLD in general is unmatched. Boban is a gift that keeps on giving. It’s inevitable. We all want Boban!

The Bench

Our expensive bench. How many fines did the team get for “bench decorum” violations? The answer is: Not enough!!

If cheering for your team and having fun in the playoffs is wrong, then we don’t want to be right. A photo of the entire Mavs bench mob doing the “too small” celebration is worth any fine the NBA can throw at Mark Cuban. And Mark Cuban would agree. Theo Pinson said it best when reflecting on the Mavs playoff run, “Man, this team, we came together, had a really good time together, came up short, but I’ll tell you, there’s not one team that had more fun than we did.”

Priceless.

Ten-Days

At one point we had three Browns on the team. Sterling, Moses, and Charlie. What a strange season it was. Sterling is the lone Brown that remains. Thank you, Sterling. Every player is important to a team’s success. This year, that includes those who were employed temporarily on 10-day Covid hardship contracts. Those guys kept us afloat during a chaotic time and played exceptionally hard. At one point, our starting five was almost unrecognizable featuring Covid contract players. There were too many to name, but the effort of every contract player is appreciated. The games they played were hard fought and fun to watch! Even if the fans didn’t know who was who. We did get to know Marquese Chriss and Theo Pinson after extending their ten-day contracts into official team contracts.

Coaching Staff

Kidd, Igor, Sweeney, Armstrong, Dudley, Kristi, Greg, Shammgod, Patton…

This coaching staff deserves all their flowers. We have an identity moving forward and it is because of them. The chemistry on the team is palpable and it carries over to the coaching staff. Even more likely, it begins with the coaching staff and carries over to the team. They led this team to new heights and there’s every reason to believe they will do it again. Jason Kidd said it best after the season ending game 5 loss, “We laid the foundation and now we can start building. This group fought, we didn’t have a second star, we had a team.” The team is in good hands.

Luka Doncic

The bringer of magic. The Wonderboy from Slovenia. The Don. What is there to say that hasn’t been said? To quote a Utah Jazz sports radio host, “Love him or hate him, Luka Doncic is a DOG! His trash talk, facial expressions, flopping, crying, complete offensive ability and will to win is all over the top....

And glorious in my opinion.

Amen. Every snarl, every wide grin, every fist pump, every mind blowing pass, every technical foul. Glorious. Even those from Tony Brothers. The flopping claim could be refuted. The man is 6’8 and built like a Texas Edition truck. He goes to the basket hard and gets fouled even harder. The fouls are often not called, but that’s another story.

With that being said, the day Luka used Chris Paul’s own tricks against him in a playoff victory will go down in basketball infamy. As Lil Wayne so eloquently stated, “Luka is a ho.” Don’t worry, Mark Cuban got the last laugh with an ALL TIME clapback tweet.

Remember the first Boston buzzer beater in November? Shortly after hitting that game winning three over multiple defenders, Luka was plagued with injuries and Covid which contributed to a slow start. It didn’t last long. In the month of February he averaged a record setting 34.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists. We saw him score a career high 51 points against the Clippers, dunk over Dwight Howard in LA, hit Powell for a perfect behind-the-back pass to get his 40th triple-double against Memphis, and mercilessly nutmeg a Timberwolves player. After hitting a step-back three in Game 6 vs Utah he hit the crowd with a shimmy that would make Antoine Walker proud. When Phoenix came to town for game 3, Luka bully balled them into submission and ruined Chris Paul’s birthday. Then in a transcendent game 7 performance, he ended the Phoenix Suns season on their home court. When asked in the postgame interview if he was aware at halftime he had as many points as the Suns, he couldn’t contain his smile, “Yeah, of course.”

A Luka Special.

Even in his low moments, and there are very few lowlights in the blossoming playoff career of Luka Doncic, he takes it in stride. After getting postered in game 3 vs the Warriors, he commented with true Luka charm in the press conference, “I wish I had those bunnies.” His grasp of English slang has never been better. I credit Doe Doe. It’s always a pleasure to watch opponent fanbases be shocked when he answers questions fluently in multiple languages. And no matter the language, he always says the right thing.

He handles the post game praise and scrutiny with perfect poise and humility. Always the first to take the blame in a loss and the first to credit the team in a win, his maturity is beyond his years. A 23-year-old vet. After the game 5 loss to the Warriors, he focused on what he needed to improve to take the next step in his seemingly limitless career. And the best part is, you know he means it. The evolution of Luka Doncic is ongoing and it will be televised.

It seems too good to be true that we get this version of Luka. This raw, passionate, unfiltered yet seasoned young baller who just loves basketball. Loves playing with his teammates. Someday he may become jaded by the critics and fame, the raw edges might become a little more polished, a little more boring. But maybe not. Maybe the magic never fades. And if the basketball gods allow, he will stay a Maverick and we can all grow up together and see what happens.

The season is over and it’s bitter-sweet. This team is so fun. We never wanted this season to end. And we pushed it almost as far as we possibly could. A chance to play in the Finals, and potentially win a championship, would have been historic. But that is hardly a regret. In fact, this season left no regrets. The vibes were truly immaculate.