Doncic, Irving lead Mavericks to NBA Finals with poise, skill

<a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Luka Doncic;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Luka Doncic</a>, left, and <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Kyrie Irving;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Kyrie Irving</a> celebrate a <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Dallas Mavericks;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Dallas Mavericks</a> victory in the NBA playoffs ahead of their NBA Finals opener at <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Boston;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Boston</a> (David Berding)

NBA scoring champion Luka Doncic and former NBA champion Kyrie Irving have led the Dallas Mavericks into the NBA Finals with a chance to upset the favored Boston Celtics.

Slovenian guard Doncic has built confidence, Irving has used insight and experience and both have shown stunning skills in sparking a 50-win Mavs squad to shock playoff ousters of the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City and Minnesota.

"He's one of the smartest players in this league and one of the reasons we're playing in the finals is his IQ and his willingness to step up on that stage and not be afraid to fail," Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said of Doncic.

"He's about winning and that's why we're here. He plays both sides of the ball when he has to but his offensive skill set is pretty special."

Doncic averaged 33.9 points, 9.8 assists and 9.2 rebounds a game this season and even after his deep NBA run said he hopes to play for Slovenian in upcoming Paris Olympic qualifying.

"We'll see how my knee is, but if it's good, I'm going to go play," Doncic said.

Still just 25, Doncic is one step from the crown he has dreamed of grabbing.

"Amazing. First time in the NBA Finals. Hopefully not the last," he said. "Never take it for granted. You never know if you're going to come back so just enjoy the experience."

It's much the same lesson stressed by Irving, who won an NBA title with LeBron James with Cleveland in 2016.

"His leadership is amazing, the way he connects us," Doncic said of Irving. "He's the one who has been to the finals, who has won the finals, so he's really leading it right now. He's keeping us all together and motivated."

Eight seasons and three teams later, Irving has been through anti-Semitic and anti-vaccine controversies and backed controversial conspiracy theories but set aside talk to focus on basketball with great success.

"Some things he has done special in practice, it's insane," Doncic said. "I never seen nobody make those shots. I never seen nobody try those shots. Just some shots are crazy. It's amazing to just experience it."

James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, said on a podcast Tuesday that Irving was "the most gifted player the NBA has ever seen" and wished he was still playing alongside him -- praise that meant much to Irving on Wednesday.

"I have a great reaction. It's appreciated. There's obviously a lot of gratitude there as well," said Irving. "I'm in a different position, a different place in my life. So is he. We've both been able to mature and really appreciate what we accomplished.

"There were some things that got in the way of our relationship when I was a little bit younger. Now that I'm able to vocalize how I feel as a man and be comfortable in it... our relationship is different. Definitely miss him.

"Now I'm able to use some of the formulas I was taught by him. I'm built for this moment because of some of the things I've gone through in my past.

"Never regretful on how I treated it but a little disappointed how I approached that success.

"Basketball has been a great teacher for me but life has been a better one."

- 'No fear out here' -

Irving has helped teammates channel the tough crowd Boston will present into support.

"You've just got to breathe through it and realize it's not as hostile as you think it is," he said. "Some of that is anxiety. Some of that is nervousness. It can all be turned into a strength. There's no fear out here. It's basketball."

Dallas forward P.J. Washington says Irving has relaxed the Mavs as they enter unfamiliar territory.

"Ky, he's done a great job of keeping us cool, calm and collected," Washington said. "Just telling us to feel every emotion, come out and be ourselves."

Mavs center Daniel Gafford agreed, adding: "Kyrie is one of the best human beings to be around. He embraces everything he has been through and found ways to improve. It takes a lot of humility to go through something like that."