Home Sports 2024 NBA Finals: Kyrie Irving remains the focus as the Mavs try to avoid a 3-0 hole

2024 NBA Finals: Kyrie Irving remains the focus as the Mavs try to avoid a 3-0 hole

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Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) during Game 1 of the NBA Finals basketball series, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

DALLAS – The NBA Finals have not gone as planned for Kyrie Irving, Luka Dončić’s running mate who has yet to put his stamp on this series.

He’s seeing a lot of bodies and everyone is equipped to defend him or at least make things difficult. So far, they’re winning the battle: Irving hasn’t made a 3-pointer despite getting good looks and is shooting just 35.1% through the first two games.

What’s more, he hasn’t gotten to the line much and defensively the Celtics are putting him in spots where Irving has to be on the baseline, which means he’s more susceptible to foul trouble.

In short, if the situation does not change quickly, the Dallas Mavericks will face elimination on Friday night. Irving said he approached Dončić to take responsibility for not playing well and told him that he has to play better.

Both Irving and Boston’s Jayson Tatum haven’t been themselves offensively, but Boston has a much more balanced and experienced roster. Tatum can afford to have bad shooting games, but he also facilitates the offense and is a key ball-moving man when the Celtics get good shots. He also defends well and rebounds.

Dallas guard Kyrie Irving (11) needs to turn the corner if the Mavs want to make the NBA Finals a real series. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Irving has to score in this one, and the Celtics have made stopping him a priority.

“The first thing is to accept that I haven’t played as well or lived up to my standards as I would have liked,” Irving said Tuesday after the Mavericks’ practice. “Coming back to Boston, I have such a level of desire within me to play well. I wanted to be there for my teammates. As a competitor, it’s frustrating.”

Maybe he was trying too hard to block out the chants and boos from the TD Garden crowd every time he touched the ball, in addition to wanting to perform at his best.

“I think he missed some easy shots. Obviously I expect him to be even more aggressive and fight to get those shots,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “The most important thing is to be detailed in individual defense. It’s not about closing it. It’s just about making it difficult for him because of his ability to impact plays.”

Having three consecutive bad shooting games or even three bad shooting games seems unlikely since he never had consecutive games under 20 points during this regular season. He has shown a propensity to bounce back during this playoff run, becoming a distributor during the Oklahoma City series when he didn’t shoot well in Game 2 and Game 4.

Let’s not forget that he completely devastated the Minnesota Timberwolves defense, with three 30-point games in that five-game bout.

And it seems like the Celtics are well aware that they have limited control over Irving, and are careful not to step on any landmines.

“I think it’s a team defense. We do it as a team. He’s not just one person, it’s everyone,” Jrue Holiday said. “We just tried to defend him, we tried to show him bodies, various people and we just tried to make it difficult for him.”

Holiday has had a stellar series and is in the early conversations for Finals MVP, a task he will have to keep up with, as Kristaps Porziņģis’ health is a question mark heading into Game 3, as He was listed as questionable Tuesday afternoon.

For Irving, one less body on the line, one less pair of long arms at the rim could make a big difference. He says the Celtics are “sending specific strategies against me to make it difficult for me” and that he has to figure it out.

“I’m just trying to make it difficult for them,” Celtics guard Derrick White said. “Obviously he’s a great player and I just try to force him to make tough shots. We expect him to play better, so it will be a bigger challenge for us.”

He has turned the ball over, especially playing alongside Dante Exum, but the shooters haven’t connected to tip the Celtics’ defense. Even if that trend changes in Game 3, the most likely path to changing the tone of the series will be for Irving to break down the Celtics’ defense on his own.

It’s tempting to look back to 2016, when Irving was in Cleveland with LeBron James and that team fell 2-0 and then 3-1 before turning it around against the Golden State Warriors, who won 73.

But this is an older Irving, a really good but perhaps not dynastic Celtics team on the other side and a younger Mavericks team that probably needs more leadership from Irving than just the shots he was asked to provide eight. years ago.

The common denominator, however, is the resilience needed to mentally stay in it and not succumb to the worst thoughts or impulses.

“We had time to fail together. We had time to go through our trials together. We lost in 2015,” Irving said of the Cavaliers team. “A lot of guys came back in 2016 and we won. So there was an internal motivation there. We also knew who we were up against and how well they played.

“I think if you have a healthy way or perspective of looking at where we are now, it seems like we are that team that is gaining experience, that is capable of failing at this level. Now we have the opportunity to respond. “That’s all you can ask for in a basketball season.”

Dallas could very well be suffering from its problems, as the Celtics did two years ago in the Finals against the Warriors. However, as Irving has stated several times, there is no guarantee of returning to this stage.

So you are supposed to be taking on the deficit with an attitude of gratitude.

“If you asked me in September or October if I would like to have the opportunity to be down 0-2 and have a chance to respond in Game 3 or be out of the playoffs, I think I would choose the former,” Irving said. “It’s as simple as that in terms of putting it into perspective. We are the only teams left. It’s about chess. That’s all”.

His next move will be Wednesday.

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