Kyrie Irving Remains Highly Confident in Dallas Mavericks, Luka Doncic Against Clippers

Kyrie Irving stays positive about the Dallas Mavericks' chances with Luka Doncic and the team in the playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Apr 28, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA;  Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) and Dallas Mavericks
Apr 28, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) and Dallas Mavericks / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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DALLAS — As the Dallas Mavericks' first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers unfolds, Kyrie Irving remains hopeful about their chances despite recent setbacks, including a 116-11 loss in Game 4. The series, now tied 2-2, has showcased both teams' resilience and has highlighted strategic adjustments made in the absence of superstar Kawhi Leonard.

As the series shifts back to Los Angeles for Game 5, both teams are aware of the high stakes. Under Irving's leadership, the Mavericks are focused on refining their strategy, particularly in rebounding and defensive adjustments to handle the Clippers' aggressive offense. Irving remains optimistic, focusing on the strengths and potential adjustments the Mavericks can employ.

“We’re in a series,” Irving said. “We’re fully aware of who we’re going against now. We know each other extremely well. We know each other’s plays. I think you’re going to see a high-level chess match in Game 5 in LA. I’m not thinking about stealing a game. I’m thinking about winning a game and finishing out the series.”

Apr 28, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA;  Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) and Dallas Mavericks
Apr 28, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) and Dallas Mavericks / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Leonard, who has missed two crucial games this series due to knee inflammation, has seen his team rise to the occasion in his absence, winning both games without him. This phenomenon has puzzled the Mavericks, as noted by Mavericks coach Jason Kidd.

“When Kawhi is out, we’ve got to be better,” Kidd said. “For whatever reason we tend to relax (when Leonard doesn’t play). So, we’ve got to address that, too.”

Irving discussed the Clippers' altered dynamics when Leonard is not playing, noting a visible change in their style. Paul George and James Harden were elevated to lead the Clippers' offense. George finished with 33 points, eight assists, and six rebounds. Harden contributed 33 points, seven assists, and six rebounds.

“When Kawhi is not in the lineup, you can see they are different players to a certain degree,” Irving said. “I think they play with a little bit more liberation; they take a lot more tough shots.”

Despite these challenges, Irving's performance has been a silver lining for the Mavericks. After a scoreless first quarter in Game 4, Irving rallied impressively, scoring 40 points by the end of the game, including key plays that momentarily gave Dallas the lead late in the fourth quarter.

“If he didn’t get going, that game would have been over in the first (quarter),” Kidd reflected on Irving’s pivotal second-quarter comeback.

Luka Doncic, who led the NBA in scoring during the regular season, is battling through right knee soreness. He feels compelled to improve his play and help his superstar backcourt partner out. While the Slovenian superstar had a triple-double with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists, he shot just 10 of 24 from the floor and 1 of 9 from beyond the arc. He's scoring efficiency has been underwhelming in the postseason thus far, shooting 38.6% overall and 26.5% from deep as the Clippers pack the paint and prioritize making pick-and-rolls difficult for Doncic to operate.

“I just got to help him more,” Doncic said. “I feel like I’m letting him down. I got to be there. He’s giving everything he has. He’s been amazing for us the whole series.”

Irving remains confident in Doncic's ability to bounce back to help close out the series, but reiterrated how it's important to not overlook the contributions he is providing already.

“We don’t have time to look at each other and ask if we’re OK,” Irving said. “We just got to be willing to put our bodies on the line. If he’s not good to go, I’m sure he’ll sit out. But knowing him and his confidence level and knowing how well he knows the Clippers, I know he wants to play well and wants to make a bigger impact than what he’s doing now, even though he’s averaging almost a triple-double."

One adjustment pondered by observers has been Irving being more aggressive early in games instead of settling into the game in more of a feel-out process. He did go scoreless in the first quarter before making a major impact to spark a needed run before halftime. However, with the Clippers blitzing pick-and-rolls early and funneling him to unfavorable spots, he feels he took what the defense gave him in Game 4 and early-game situations throughout the series.

"I think I could be a better reader of the game," Irving said. "I'm always hypercritical in my game anyway. To start off games like tonight, I kind of had the mentality just to come in and allow the game to come to me.

"I said it the other night, but I think the difference probably in the first quarter tonight was just their aggressiveness on my pick-and-rolls and then also forcing me to go or funnel to a certain area where there are a lot of guys, and our spacing wasn't that great," Irving explained. "I was just making reads and I didn't hit my first few shots in the first quarter. No time to get down on myself and get down on my teammates."

When evaluating Doncic's performance after Game 4, Kidd emphasized how Doncic did "everything he could" in the 45 minutes he played. With the Mavericks holding a late lead but failing to close out the victory, Kidd felt Doncic did enough to put the team in a position to achieve a victory.

"I thought he competed on both ends. He put us in position," Kidd said of Doncic. "We take the lead there in the fourth. We just came up short. I thought he did a really good job on both ends.”

As the series shifts back to Los Angeles for Game 5, both teams are aware of the high stakes. Under Irving's leadership, the Mavericks are focused on refining their strategy, particularly in rebounding and defensive adjustments to handle the Clippers' aggressive offense.


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Grant Afseth

GRANT AFSETH

Grant Afseth is a Dallas Mavericks reporter for MavericksGameday.com and an NBA reporter for NBA Analysis Network. He previously covered the Indiana Pacers and NBA for CNHI's Kokomo Tribune and various NBA teams for USA TODAY Sports Media Group. Follow him on Twitter (@grantafseth), Facebook (@grantgafseth), and YouTube (@grantafseth). You can reach Grant at grantafseth35@gmail.com.