Dallas Mavericks' Kyrie Irving Admits OKC Thunder Series Among 'Hardest' of NBA Career

Dallas Mavericks superstar Kyrie Irving described the ongoing playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder as one of the most difficult he's played.
May 15, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) drives to the
May 15, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) drives to the / Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS — Dallas Mavericks superstar Kyrie Irving, after helping guide his team to a 104-92 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5, shared his thoughts on the physically demanding nature of the Western Conference semifinals, describing it as “one of the hardest series I’ve ever played.” This win pushed the Mavericks to a 3-2 series lead, bolstered by Luka Doncic channeling "the old Luka" by playing with joy, resulting in a 31-point triple-double.

"It’s just really just the pace and just the physicality," Irving said. "And last series was physical, too, and the pace was a little different. But I think just this series, it’s challenged me physically, mentally, emotionally. I’ve accepted that and I’ve focused on the things that I can control and focused on getting my guys going early. And however the game plays out, it’s going to play out."

May 15, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) drives to the
May 15, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) drives to the / Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Despite these challenges, he is averaging 14.4 points, 6.8 assists, and 2.4 rebounds entering Game 6. Irving’s approach has been tactical and composed, focusing on making the right plays based on how the defense presents itself. Throughout the series, Irving has faced intense defensive scrutiny, often being the target of double teams and aggressive defensive coverages.

"They’re keeping somebody on me that’s athletic, that’s going to make it tough on me," Irving said. "So I don’t mind giving myself up in order to create opportunities for my teammates, and I like to see them do well."

Irving has emphasized reading the defense and committing to the appropriate basketball play. He remains poised to take more challenging shots when necessary, though he believes that moment hasn’t yet arrived. He remains intent on making a strong defensive impact and continuing to take what's given offensively.

"But I’m really laying my hat on the defensive end and giving a lot of effort and and just trying to make the right plays offensively," Irving said. "They’re putting 3 on the ball at times for me, and I could obviously take a lot of tough shots, and I think that’s coming in the near future when it’s needed. But for right now just reading the game and allowing the basketball gods to shower me with a lot of love when you’re playing the right way."

While some players may be unwilling to give up scoring performances in the way Irving has done, he admitted reaching such a stage required him to mature in the past. He doesn't want to fall into what he described as being a "trap" of fixating on scoring. He's prepared to be aggressive in taking tougher shots if needed, but he doesn't feel the situation has called for it yet.

"I’ve spoken on this a few times, but just internally, as a young player, when I was a little bit younger, it was easy for me to kind of throw away the good stuff that I was doing because I wanted to focus on my scoring, and I know how many people want me to focus on my scoring, right, that are not in the locker room," Irving said. "So don’t want to fall into that trap.

"Really want to focus on the positive vibes that are given to me from my teammates and they’re going to find me when it’s time," Irving explained. "But I love finding them just as much and when you can leave out of a tough environment like OKC with the win, you really got to celebrate that."

Leadership has been a significant focus for Irving, especially given the young makeup of the Mavericks’ roster. Irving and Doncic have been tasked with guiding the team through the playoffs, a responsibility both have taken seriously.

“We’ve been held accountable from the beginning of the year that it was going to start with us and it was going to challenge us,” Irving said, acknowledging the expectations set by Mavericks coaches and management.

The Mavericks’ roster depth has proven crucial, particularly in Game 5, with players like Derrick Jones Jr. stepping up to score a playoff career-high 19 points. Irving praised his teammates’ ability to seize their moments, emphasizing the collective effort that has characterized their playoff run.

“When our guys are making shots, especially threes out of the corner or that wing, it creates a lot of opportunities for me and Luka to get downhill because they’re showing a lot of help, they’re showing a lot of bodies,” Irving explained.

Defensively, the Mavericks have developed a robust identity, which Irving proudly highlighted. The trust among teammates and their joint defensive efforts have been key to their success, allowing them to effectively counter the Thunder’s offensive strategies.

"We’ve just grown and we’ve allowed our trust in one another’s skill sets to really flourish. We have guys that enjoy defending but they also get tired," Irving said. "So we’re going to need our depth to really come through and really provide us with that spark off the bench. ... But I think for us, energy-wise, having that trust in him and him being so young in a semifinal playoff game, Game 5, could go either way, and shows the trust that J-Kidd has in him as well. It was just tremendous effort from him.

"And then everybody that came off the bench and that gave us something that we needed in the game," Irving explained. "D-Live was a plus-22 tonight, and it just reflects how we feel about each other when we’re playing at that level where we can basically go out there in that game and just play basketball instead of worrying about X’s and O’s. We just worry about playing basketball in our style of basketball."

As the series progresses to Game 6, Irving’s perfect 13-0 record in closeout games will be tested against a Thunder team that doesn't back down. A victory would advance Dallas to the Western Conference Finals, with the matchup being decided by Sunday's Game 7 involving the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets.

READ MORE: Derrick Jones Jr. Wants to Return to the Dallas Mavericks Next Season

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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.