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Kyrie Irving takes accountability for Mavs’ 2-0 deficit to Boston

There are a number of reasons the Dallas Mavericks find themselves in a 2-0 deficit to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals and chief among them has been the play of star guard Kyrie Irving.

Through the first two games Irving is averaging just 14 points and four assists while only shooting 35% from the field and not making a 3. It’s been jarring to watch, considering how well Irving has performed on this stage in the past.

He averaged 27.1 points during the 2016 NBA Finals and was just as instrumental to the legendary comeback as LeBron James was. When Cleveland met Kevin Durant and the Warriors the next season, Irving went down swinging by averaging over 29 points while shooting 47 percent from the floor and better than 41 percent from 3.

The Finals and postseason in general have been stages where Irving has usually played his best, but right now Irving looks more like the version of himself that was swept by the Celtics in 2022 than he does the one that went bucket for bucket with Steph Curry.

To his credit, Irving took accountability for Dallas falling short and made sure to personally apologize to Luka Doncic.

“I was just telling my hermano (brother) that I have play better for him alongside him,” Irving said to the media Tuesday. “In order for us to accomplish our goal, we both have to be playing well and we both have to be doing the little things to win. It was easy conversation, it just started with me reaching out letting him know it’s my fault and taking accountability for not playing well.”

It would’ve been easy for Irving’s frustrations to show considering his history with Boston and how he’s struggled this series, but his answer was yet another sign of how much Irving has calmed and matured since arriving in Dallas.

Players are often quick to say every opponent is the same, but Irving was honest in his disappointment in not being able to play well against his former team.

“Being back in Boston, there’s such a level of desire that I have inside of me to play well,” Irving said. “As a competitor it’s frustrating, but I don’t want to let that seep in or spill over to any other decisions I have to make out there as a player. I’ve been down 0-2 before, I know what it takes.”

In order for the Mavericks to make a comeback it’ll require Irving to put forth the same effort he displayed in 2016, but how can he accomplish that in Game 3 and the rest of the series?

There’s no easy matchup on the floor for Irving to exploit with Jrue Holiday or Derrick White guarding him most of the time. If Irving does use a pick to create separation, the Celtics have wisely included Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in those actions so they’re the two defenders switching onto Irving often.

So for Irving it’s either to try to create his own shot against two perennial All-Defense guards or test his luck against two of the best two-way wings in the NBA.

The answer to the problem is continuing to trust in his teammates. The Mavericks’ role players struggled in Boston after being more than solid the majority of the postseason. If they’re not making shots, it only makes life tougher on Irving.

“On the offensive side we need to create more space so Kyrie and Luka have it a little bit easier to create shots for themselves and us,” Maxi Kleber said. “If Kyrie plays good, we play good. But even if he’s not, Ky makes great decisions for us. Just because he’s having an off shooting night doesn’t mean he played bad. He makes a lot of big decisions on both sides, he has a high I.Q, so it’s not just about scoring.

“We’ve still just gotta get him a little more space to get some easy ones and get a rhythm. That’s when everybody gets going.”

Kleber isn’t the only Maverick that still has plenty of confidence in Irving.

“We believe in him,” Dallas center Daniel Gafford said. “We’ve just gotta find ways to get him downhill more and also just try to keep him as motivated as possible.”

Motivation won’t be an issue for Irving with so much on the line, it’s the downhill portion of the equation that Dallas has to worry about.

Irving was able to pick apart Minnesota’s top-ranked defense in the Western Conference Finals, averaging 27 a game against quality defenders like Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels.

But Edwards had to carry the offensive load for the Timberwolves and McDaniels has length, but not the agility required for Irving. The Celtics have the necessary physical benchmarks and also have the depth to keep rolling bodies at Irving on the perimeter unlike the Timberwolves.

Kleber, Gafford and players like P.J. Washington and Derrick Jones Jr. coming alive would benefit Irving a lot, but this series will be won by the performances of Doncic and Irving. Doncic has held up his end up the bargain averaging 31 points, 10.5 rebounds and six assists.

Now it’s on Irving to match his excellence just like he did with James back in 2016.