Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving Step Up Defense Against Clippers

Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving lead Dallas Mavericks to a crucial Game 2 victory over LA Clippers by embracing defensive roles.
Mar 21, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA;  Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) celebrates with Dallas
Mar 21, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) celebrates with Dallas / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks' superstar duo, Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, have stepped up their defensive game, contributing significantly to a 96-93 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series. This victory marked a crucial 1-1 tying of the series, with the Mavericks showcasing a newfound defensive rigor.

Doncic, often recognized for his offensive prowess, embraced his defensive role, especially when targeted by the Clippers, who possess a quartet of superstar talents, including Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook.

"I accept it," Doncic said regarding his defensive responsibilities. "It gets me going on the defensive end, too. If they want to attack me, that’s fine. I think I played good defense today. I just got to stay locked in."

Mar 21, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA;  Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) celebrates with Dallas
Mar 21, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) celebrates with Dallas / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The 6-foot-7 guard not only scored 32 points but also made significant contributions on defense, including containing key plays against Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Mavericks coach Jason Kidd highlighted the importance of Doncic's defensive efforts.

“We all know when he’s playing at that level, (his teammates) have to step up, too," Kidd said. "They understand the responsibility of their leader. He’s going to play defense and participate — they have to be able to do the same thing."

Irving, too, adopted a rigorous defensive stance, notably picking up players full-court, which Clippers coach Tyronn Lue acknowledged had a substantial impact.

“It changes their team a lot. Kyrie’s picking up full-court. Luka’s taking the one-on-one challenge," Lue said. "When your best players step up and do that, it means a lot. It sets a tone for your team."

With Leonard back in the lineup for Game 2, Irving's primary assignment was often his former Brooklyn Nets teammate Harden. It's a challenge that Irving has not only met with embrace, but has set the tone by being the aggressor with his physicality.

"It's good to be on the other side, definitely missing him, but at the same time, glad that we get to compete against each other now," Irving continued.

The Mavericks' defensive strategy effectively stifled the Clippers, who had finished the regular season sixth in the NBA in field goal shooting at 48.9%. On Tuesday, Dallas held them to just 36.8% from the field, the lowest shooting percentage for the Clippers this season. They also limited the Clippers to 8-30 from three-point range, a sharp decline from the 50% shooting in Game 1.

Supporting the efforts of Doncic and Irving, teammates like P.J. Washington and Derrick Jones Jr. played crucial roles in containing Leonard and George, respectively.

"Just understanding what P.J. [Washington] means to us on the defensive end," Kidd said. "For his first series, when you talk about the playoffs, he’s been big for us. He’s been big since we got him in the trade. We really rely on him defensively to be able to guard those guys from the Clippers, because it’s not just one, it seems like he’s guarding everyone."

Jones tackles his defensive assignments with a mix of modesty and assurance. Assigned to defend some of the NBA's premier players during the playoffs, Jones doesn’t back down from these confrontations. He welcomes the chance to test his skills against top competitors, acknowledging the shared human qualities he has with his illustrious opponents.

“It’s a great opportunity to go out there and play against them,” Jones stated. “And like I said before, they’re human, they’re a man just like me. They put their pants on one leg at a time just like me. I fear no man. I have no fear in my heart for no one.”

Jones also shared his praise for Doncic's willingness to defend despite having such a hefty burden leading the offense. When sharing insight into Doncic's impact, Jones called out those who have said Doncic isn't a good defender, emphasizing, "I haven't that at all."

“You can’t just say somebody isn’t a good defender because somebody’s gotten by them when they’re playing defense,” Jones said. “It’s happened to me plenty of times, and I know for sure that I’m a great defender. Luka has been doing great all year long, and I hope he keeps it going.

“I’ve been saying it all year long — Luka has always taken the challenge," Jones explained. "People have always said that he’s not good defensively, but I haven’t seen that at all. Yeah, he has lapses. I’ve had lapses too, and players have gotten by me as well.”

Maxi Kleber broke down Doncic's defensive intangibles, highlighting how his instincts and high basketball IQ enable him to make defensive plays, even if detractors will pick one out of the many he's involved in throughout playing 46 minutes as he did in Game 2.

"He's a high IQ player who understands where to be, even on the weak side, positioning himself well," Kleber said of Doncic. "Obviously, he handles the ball a lot on offense, which is exhausting, so he might not always be able to give 100% on defense. But if he's giving about 80%, that's a huge benefit and really helps everyone else."

"It's a long game, and he plays the most minutes, so mistakes are going to happen, and people tend to focus on those," Kleber explained. "Overall, he's a very smart defender who's usually in the right place, which is a big help to the team."

The Clippers attempted to exploit Doncic defensively by involving him in screening actions, a less effective tactic in Game 2.

"I thought we maybe got a little too stagnate, trying to attack him," Lue said. "He did a good job. He sat down. He took the challenge and he really defended. Kyrie did the same thing."

The Mavericks' commitment to defense is seen as a key factor for their success as the series moves to Dallas for the next two games. With the series now tied 1-1, the Mavericks' improved defense under the leadership of Doncic and Irving could be the difference-maker as they look to capitalize on their home-court advantage.

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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.