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Close but not close enough. Dallas’ dynamic backcourt duo embrace as they fall in Game 5 to the NBA Champion Boston Celtics. Courtesy X

Hello, darkness, my old friend. It’s nice to bask in the lightless confines of your icy embrace once again. Sports is a mean business, man, and I am feeling it now. Though the outcome seemed inevitable, the Mavericks succumbed to a gentleman’s sweep, falling 4-1 to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, affording the latter a league-record 18th NBA championship, and I’m deep in a hole about it.

“Why so butthurt?” you may ask. “It was a great year! The Mavs made it further than anyone thought they would. The window is wide open for them to actually close the deal next year. Or the year after.”

All those things are true, but they are little solace. Whenever it is that your team’s chance at ultimate glory ends, whether it’s mathematical elimination during the regular season or in the midst of a deep playoff run, it’s still a kick in the ’ol coin purse when it’s all over. The moment that wide-eyed “What if?” becomes an undeniable “No, sorry” always sucks. So, give me a moment to sit with it a bit. The sunny optimism for the future just isn’t enough to overcome the full weight of a lost opportunity.

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Sports grief is a continuum, with many variables influencing the depth of the pain, such as how long it’s been since the team’s last championship (if ever) and what were the expectations going into the season and so on. The general, low-level, baseline misery that exists for fans of perennially terrible teams like the New York Jets or the Charlotte Hornets is not the same as the soul-crushing heartbreak that’s plagued the faithful of the Buffalo Bills or the Edmonton Oilers (or the Dallas Stars at the hands of those same Edmontonians) over the last few years. There is something about getting close that seems to hurt so much more than never being in the hunt. Just ask these juggernaut Celtics. They went to seven of the last eight Eastern Conference Finals with a trip to the NBA Finals mixed in there before finally getting over the hump. Surely, that’s fed the tension built up in their league-worst douchey fanbase. That’s why if the Cowboys ever make it to another NFC Championship game, they’d better go ahead and win the goddamn Super Bowl the same year, or there’s no telling how far I’d fall.

A long run is no guarantee of continued success. You need look no further than the 2006 Mavericks. It was easy enough to absorb that year’s loss to the Heat in the finals, with the idea that superstar Dirk Nowitzki was young and surely they’d be in contention year after year. They could win multiple ’ships with the core of that team that won 67 games, yet it was five long years and a markedly different roster before the Mavs were finally able to claw back to the finals and win the franchise’s only championship.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no frustration at this year’s Mavs for becoming gentlemen losers. I can be proud of the effort they gave against a *choking on the words* “team of destiny” in Boston while also having my soft little sports heart broken that they climbed all the way up the mountain and had to turn back just shy of the summit, despite of what anyone thought of their presence on the mountain in the first place. Had the Rangers’ out-of-nowhere championship run last fall ended instead with Arizona’s Corbin Carroll hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy in lieu of Texas’ Cory Seager, I would have wanted to fistfight my drywall or weep openly in the shower, regardless of how surprising the Rangers’ appearance in the World Series was.

The Mavs are a good team. Good enough to have beaten Boston even. They had the two best players heading into the series in their backcourt of Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving, along with a killer tandem of centers in Derek Lively II and Daniel Gafford and some contributing depth scorers in PJ Washington and Derek Jones Jr. Yet the Celts were able to put a hex on Kyrie in Boston that he could not shake off with a thousand sage smudge sticks. Dallas’ centers were completely neutralized, and the depth shooting went colder than darkness’ familiar icy embrace.

The future looks bright, but it’s obviously not invincible. Not only does Boston look poised to appear in seven of the next eight Eastern Conference Finals, but all of the teams Dallas beat on their way to represent the West all look like their respective windows are just as open. There are no easy paths for the Mavericks to get back to where they came. While I can’t fault them for not exceeding their already exceeded expectations, it was a helluva year. It was also a helluva missed opportunity. Who knows how long it could be before they make it back this far again.

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