It seemed rather inevitable once the Boston Celtics went up 3-0 in the series, but on Monday night, the end of the Dallas Mavericks' season came to a heartbreaking end after they suffered 106-88 defeat in Game 5 of the 2024 NBA Finals. The Mavericks have tried to come up with the right formula to overcome a historically-great Celtics team and have failed at every turn, and now, they're staring deep into the looming offseason with plenty of what-ifs swirling in their mind as they let a golden opportunity to win a championship slip away.

However, if there's anyone who knows what the phrase “delay isn't denial” means, it's Dirk Nowitzki. Thus, following the Mavericks' defeat in the 2024 NBA Finals, Nowitzki, the franchise's greatest player of all time, implored Luka Doncic and company to hold their head up high as they have given themselves plenty of reasons to be proud of what they accomplished this season even if it did not result in a championship.

“Great run @dallasmavs Heads up!! We will be back!!!” Nowitzki wrote on his official Twitter (X) account following the Mavericks' Game 5 defeat.

Following a disastrous 2022-23 season, only a few expected the Mavericks to bounce back this past season. In fact, in the middle of the 2023-24 campaign, the Mavs did not look like a championship contender. But a few crucial trades here and there elevated the team and gave them a gritty identity built on defense and timely shot-making, allowing them to escape the Western Conference gauntlet in impressive fashion.

While many critics find it difficult to believe that the Mavericks can replicate this effort of theirs this season given how stacked the Western Conference figures to be, Luka Doncic and company have certainly earned the benefit of the doubt moving forward. Underestimate them at your own risk.

Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki knows what heartbreak is

As mentioned earlier, nobody is more familiar with the feeling of playoff heartbreak than Dirk Nowitzki is. Nowitzki, back in 2006, looked like he was on the verge of a breakthrough. Never mind the fact that the Mavericks had just let two-time MVP Steve Nash walk away two years ago — Nowitzki was on the cusp of a championship as he led the team to a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals.

However, the Mavericks faltered as Dwyane Wade, perhaps with the help of some very generous officiating, took over the series, leading the Miami Heat to four straight victories. And it wasn't like that series played out like this year's Finals did. No, that series was close, with the Heat taking a 95-92 win in Game 6, and on the road no less, to further twist the knife.

In 2007, Dirk Nowitzki bounced back better than ever; he led the Mavericks to a 67-win season, responding with the mindset of a champion after the Finals heartbreak the year prior. But we all know how that turned out.

The Mavericks wilted under the pressure in the postseason, suffering perhaps the most iconic playoff upset of all time as the “We Believe” Golden State Warriors ran the Mavs off the court. It got so embarrassing for Nowitzki that he had to step away from the limelight after sheepishly accepting the MVP award after the Mavs had already been eliminated from championship contention.

Nowitzki remained a foundational, high-floor superstar for the next three seasons, but the Mavericks failed to advance past the second round during that stretch. It was looking as if Nowitzki's championship window had been slammed shut as he was already 32 years old by the time the 2010-11 season came along.

However, Dirk Nowitzki stayed the course, continued to believe, and the Mavericks went all the way in 2011 — five years after their meltdown from 2-0 up in the Finals. Nowitzki proceeded to have one of the most memorable playoff runs during that year, overcoming an underrated Portland Trail Blazers team, dethroning Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, stopping the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder in their tracks, and in a bit of poetic justice, avenged their 2006 defeat by stopping the new Heat big three, led by LeBron James, in its tracks.

Thus, there is merit to Nowitzki's words that Luka Doncic and this Mavericks team will be back. The experience they've gained this postseason is tremendous. Even the all-time greats needed to learn the ropes in the postseason before they broke through. The Celtics certainly paid their dues, what with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown faltering in 2022. It could take Doncic and the Mavs five years, like Nowitzki, but waiting only serves to make the reward that much sweeter.