Mavs’ Kyrie Irving Admits He Must Play Better In NBA Finals: ‘I Got To Play Better’

Kyrie Irving, Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics, NBA News
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks are down 2-0 in the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics but have yet to receive close to expected impact from Kyrie Irving. Luka Doncic has answered the call, averaging 31.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 6.0 assists entering Game 3. In comparison, Irving has averaged 14 points on 35.1% shooting, including missing all eight of his 3-point attempts when his team outside of Doncic has struggled in this regard.

Doncic conveyed confidence in not just Irving, but the team as a whole to get back on track on jump shots in this series. “Just one thing: Keep shooting. We all believe in those shots. That’s how we came to the Finals,” he said. “That’s how we played the whole season. We believe in those guys. Everybody believes. If you’re open, just keep shooting. You’re going to knock it down at some point.”

Irving has not shied away from confronting his struggles to begin the series. In the first two games. While he has recorded eight assists, he has also committed five turnovers. Irving has taken responsibility, starting with a conversation with Luka Doncic.

“Yeah, it started with me just telling my hermano I got to play better for him, alongside him,” Irving admitted. “In order for us to accomplish our goal, we both have to be playing well and we both have to be doing the little things, doing whatever it takes to win. Easy conversation. But it started with me reaching out, just letting him know it’s my fault, taking accountability for not playing particularly well.

“But also I got to continue to trust my guys around us or around me. I need to have fun in the process,” Irving explained. “We’ve gotten this far because we’ve been a great team, not because we’ve just put it on me and Luka. It’s been a total team, organizational effort to get this far. We just got to keep trusting in that.”

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Irving has sometimes succeeded by using his speed advantages in pick-and-roll, whether he’s bringing a slower big into the action or using a guard-to-guard screen to create a chance to turn the corner. Regardless, he’s been reluctant to take transition pull-up 3-pointers and has struggled to score in isolation situations while missing open shots.

“I can be a lot more fundamentally sound, technical on my shots, not get into the paint often where it’s three or four guys around me, I’m not making a pass,” Irving explained. “They’re sending specific strategies against me to make it difficult.”

Nevertheless, if the Mavericks are to mount a comeback against the Celtics, it begins with Irving rediscovering the form that torched the Timberwolves in the Western Conference Finals. However, the player seen in the first two games has been far from that standard.

The Celtics’ defensive strategy includes utilizing an elite defender in Jrue Holiday to neutralize Irving, while maintaining a help defensive presence in the paint to deter advantages on drives while overall being intent on turning him downhill to keep him off the 3-point line.

“It’s not just one person, it’s everybody,” Holiday said. “We just try to defend him, we try to show him bodies, multiple people, and just try to make it difficult.”

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Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd recognizes the importance of getting Irving back on track, especially with the potential absence of Porzingis, who typically helps by altering shots in the paint. “He had great looks. They just didn’t go down,” he said after Game 2. “That’s just the game of basketball. Sometimes you make them. Sometimes you don’t. You continue to keep playing. He had some good looks that just didn’t go down for him tonight.”

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla also knows Irving’s capabilities and expects Irving to be more aggressive in Game 3. “I think he’s missed some easy shots,” he said. “I expect him obviously to be even more aggressive and to fight to get those shots. The most important thing is just being detailed in individual defense. It’s not about shutting him down. It’s about just making it difficult for him because of his ability to impact plays. So we just have to fight for that. He’s gotten some good looks. I think we have to guard him better. He’s definitely going to be more aggressive.”

Irving’s struggles have been significant, and his willingness to acknowledge them shows growth. His ability to bounce back and elevate his game could be the catalyst the Mavericks need. The team’s fate in the Finals largely rests on Irving finding his rhythm and leading by example on the court.

“First thing of that is just accepting that I haven’t played well or up to my standards, as well as I would have liked,” Irving said. “Being back in Boston, there’s such a level of desire that I have inside of me to play well. Wanted to be there for my teammates. As a competitor, it’s frustrating. But I don’t want to let that seep in or spill over to any other decisions I have to make there as a player. Continue to feed my teammates’ confidence. Have been down 0-2 before – lost a series, won a series. I know what it takes. Also how to prepare for something like that mentally, spiritually, emotionally, physically.

“First is just respecting your opponent, then most importantly putting your best foot forward out there when we go out there,” Irving explained. It’s as simple as that.”

NBA NEWS & RUMORS: Kyrie Irving, Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics Updates

There would be no better time for Dallas if Irving can find a rhythm offensively in Game 3 as the team hopes to avoid a 3-0 series deficit.

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