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Doncic, Irving can't deliver for Dallas in NBA Finals loss

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BOSTON (AP) — Short jumpers rolled off the rim and 3-pointers went in and out. Even free throws were a challenge for Luka Doncic in the clinching game of the NBA Finals.

Dallas needed Doncic and Kyrie Irving to be at their best in Game 5 against the Celtics on Monday night. Instead, the Mavericks’ best players got off to a terrible start, and by the time their shots started falling the Celtics were coasting to a 106-88 victory and an unprecedented 18th NBA title.

“Failing at this stage definitely sucks,” Irving said while the Celtics celebrated in the locker room down the hall. “It’s a bitter feeling because you want to keep playing, and you feel like your best game is coming up next and the shots that you shoot next game are coming up.

“We got to the top of the mountain and we failed. So now we have to start at the bottom, and that should be inspiring,” he said. "It will be a long summer, but looking forward to the start of next season now.”

Doncic missed his first six 3-point attempts and finished 12 of 25 from the floor; by the time he made a 3, Dallas already trailed by 21. He scored 28 points — 10 of them in the fourth quarter, when Dallas never got closer than 18 points.

He had 12 rebounds but also turned the ball over seven times. He was 2 for 5 from the free throw line, a problem that has bothered him throughout the series.

“It just wasn’t our night offensively,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said after his fifth-seeded team fell short of its second NBA title. “We’re a young team. We have a young core, and so this is an exciting time to be a Mavs fan and to also be a coach for the Mavs.”

The Slovenian star said injuries — a bruised chest, and problems in his right knee and left ankle — weren't the problem.

“It doesn’t matter if I was hurt, how much was I hurt. I was out there,” he said. “I tried to play, but I didn’t do enough.”

Irving was 3 for 9 from 3-point range and 5 of 16 overall. He had nine assists but 15 points -- six of them in the fourth quarter, when the game was already out of reach.

“I look at it as an opportunity for us to observe what we did well this year as a group and how me and Luka can be better as the leaders of the team,” he said. “When you fail at the finals, it’s not something that you want to carry the disappointment forever or on to next season. We worked extremely hard to be one of the final two teams. We didn’t achieve our goal, but we achieved most of our goal. So, this is just the last step that we have to get back to, and we know it’s not going to be easy.”

Irving's failure brought joy to the Boston fans, who booed him every time he touched the ball — still angry that he opted out of his Celtics contract in 2019. Irving, who admitted this week that the crowd had a “psychological edge” over him, averaged 14.3 points in the three games in Boston and 28 in the two in Dallas.

“The crowds can chant whatever they want to chant. When we’re away, they’re obviously going to go against us,” Dallas guard Josh Green said. "He does a great job of not letting it affect him and I think that goes back to his leadership on and off the court.

“So we have nothing but respect for Kyrie. ... We all got his back, for sure.”

Irving and Doncic shared a hug at the end of the game.

“We said, ‘We’ll fight together next season,’ and we (are) just going to believe,” Doncic said. “I’m proud of every guy that stepped on the floor, all the coaches, all the people behind. Obviously, we didn’t win finals, but we did have a hell of a season and I’m proud of every one of them.”

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba