How a more mature Kyrie Irving sparked the Mavs to a series-clinching win over the Clippers

When the Dallas Mavericks acquired Kyrie Irving from the Brooklyn Nets on Feb. 6, 2023, it was a move that was universally panned.

Irving was coming off a failed superteam experiment with Kevin Durant and James Harden that followed a lackluster stint with the Boston Celtics. Would Dallas be yet another team that would crumble with Irving in the locker room? Considering how Dallas limped to the finish line of last season missing the play-in tournament, many of the detractors seemed right.

However, much can change in a year and after Irving’s 28-point outburst in the second half of Dallas’ series-clinching 114-101 win over the Clippers Friday, it’s clear that the rumors of Irving being the NBA version of Terrell Owens has been overstated.

The Kyrie that’s been under constant media scrutiny ever since he left LeBron James in Cleveland isn’t the same Kyrie the Mavericks have come to know and adore.

“When you look at Ky, we don’t see that perception of what’s been written in the past,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said after the win. “What he’s doing is rewriting his journey and you can see that. When we got him, people didn’t think he was going to fit with Luka, that changed quickly. Now they’re writing about him scoring 28 in a half, it’s a beautiful thing.”

For the fans in American Airlines Center, it certainly was a beautiful sight considering how things started.

The start of Game 6 wasn’t the typical Kyrie Irving experience as the gifted, bucket-getting guard had just two points in the first half as the Mavs found themselves tied 52-52 with Kawhi Leonard-less Clippers.

His shot wasn’t falling as Los Angeles swarmed him with traps and double teams. For many players it would be a frustrating moment with so much pressure on the line, but this is Kyrie Irving and there’s no moment too big for the NBA champion and eight time NBA all-star.

Like he’s done in every closeout game of his career, Irving rose to the occasion with a brilliant second half including the third quarter where exploded for 13 points to turn a close game into a commanding blowout.

Irving came out firing after halftime with five quick points including a 3-pointer to spark a 8-0 run that forced a Clippers timeout. It was just the start of what was to come as Irving continued the offensive onslaught in the final two minutes of the third quarter.

After a lengthy rest Irving immediately came in and hit on his signature floater. Less than 30 seconds later Irving knocked down another 3 that was all net as the Mavs extended their lead to 85-70. Dallas got good moments from P.J. Washington and Dereck Lively during the third, but make no mistake it was Irving that was the catalyst.

Irving is now 13-0 in closeout games, the best in NBA history and games like this one are the exact reason Dallas made the move to acquire him.

“When I think about 13-0 in closeout games I just know we’ve got to get there to that point,” Irving said. “To be able to have the other team submit and it’s one of the hardest things to do as a competitor is have your opponent concede or submit. You’ve just just got to relish those moments where you get a chance to go up against some of the greatest in the world.”

On a court with Doncic, Paul George and James Harden it was Irving that shined the brightest even with Doncic having 28 points and 13 assists in the victory.

In the fourth quarter Irving delivered one of his many daggers when he had P.J. Tucker isolated on the wing. Irving hit him with his signature crossover that had Tucker trying to regain his balance only for Irving to pull up and hit a leaning 3-pointer from the corner while being fouled.

The AAC erupted in a roar and for some of Irving’s teammates it felt like they were in a video game watching him put the game and series away.

“Unbelievable, it’s like NBA 2K,” Mavs forward P.J. Washington said. “Mamba takeover, he was just doing what he does. He’s special, I’m just glad to be on his team. Y’all seen it, there ain’t much to say.”

For many of the last few years being picked apart for his stance on vaccination, whether or not the Earth is flat and of course him posting a documentary with anti-semitic views that led to him being suspended by the Nets and ultimately ended his tenure.

To be clear, a lot of those criticisms were fair and even Irving acknowledged that there was some growing up he needed to do.

“I’m very responsible with what I say, what I do and how I approach my day to day life,” Irving said. “As a young person I can say I wasn’t really thinking about any of that. I didn’t really have an understanding of who I was as a person. I had to figure that out, what you’re seeing now is a version of me I’m proud of.”

One person that had a strong sense of who Irving was beyond the headlines was Kidd, whose relationship with Irving goes back much further than February of last year.

“I’ve known Ky a lot longer than most, he knows how to play the game the right way,” Kidd said. “We all have our own opinions about different things. He’s worldly which is a beautiful thing too, most of us aren’t. We’re just stuck in our sport, but he can talk about other things. Sometimes that scares people, but I think what he’s done for us has been a leader and he’s teaching these young men how to be pros.”

Irving touched on a lot of different things during his 16 minutes talking to the media including shouting out his therapist, his family heritage and sharing his beliefs on philanthropy and much more. The Irving that seemed to be always on the defensive in Brooklyn is more relaxed, more at peace with himself and it’s translating onto the basketball court.

“I meditate, I pray. I’m more consistent with my daily practices to help me stay grounded and balanced,” Irving said. “Part of knowing who you are is where you come from. I’ve been on a spiritual journey, figuring out who my mom’s side of the family is and some family members from my dad.

“Basketball was sometimes not the priority.. things probably got mixed up emotionally and people pre-judged me without knowing who I was. All that is a part of the process of growing up in this world and life. There’s no time to blame anybody or hold grudges, I just look at it as an opportunity to help the next generation see that you can make it through the fire and rise like a Phoenix.”

After missing the playoffs last year a more mature Irving is a big the Mavericks have risen like a Phoenix in the Western Conference hierarchy and may be the hottest team left in the playoffs.