Kyrie Irving needs to improve as NBA Finals moves to friendlier confines for Mavericks (2024)

Jeff ZillgittUSA TODAY

DALLAS — Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving’s 3-point attempt from the corner hit the side of backboard. He dribbled the ball off his foot for a turnover on another possession, and he has been unable to finish at the rim with his trademark proficiency.

The first two games of the NBA Finals in Boston were not Irving’s finest as unwelcoming and relentless home fans booed and jeered the former Celtics player.

"First thing of that is just accepting that I haven't played well or up to my standards, as well as I would have liked," Irving said Tuesday.

Known as one of the game’s best shotmakers and ball-handlers, Irving averaged just 14 points on 35.1% shooting from the field and 0-for-8 on 3-pointers in the first two games.

That comes after a tremendous Western Conference finals in which he averaged 27 points and shot 49% from the field and 37.5% on 3-pointers.

The Mavs need more of that Irving, 32, and less of the other Irving in Game 3 on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

"Being back in Boston, there's such a level of desire that I have inside of me to play well," Irving said. "Wanted to be there for my teammates. 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 there as a player."

Irving’s yearning to play well in Boston and Celtics fans’ harsh treatment factored into his performance. He said the boos and other acts, such as "Kyrie sucks" and "(Expletive) Kyrie" chants as fans "beat up" an effigy wearing an Irving jersey and a picture of Irving’s face on it, are just part of fandom.

"Putting into perspective the blow-up dolls and remarks that are getting said, that's basketball," he said. "When I leave out of here and I walk around Boston, I don't hear a lot of the things that I hear when I'm playing on the court. There's a lot of mutual respect. There's a lot of eye-to-eye communication that's built on just being human, and they appreciate the things I do off the floor, as well.

"There are a lot of Celtics fans out there that still love me, too, surprising to everybody. But when I'm on the street walking around, which I do, you know, it's a lot of love. I get a lot of embrace. I take pictures. My dad is here, he played at Boston University. So there has to be a respect there because if anything happens to my family while I'm here, then it goes way beyond the game, you know."

Irving acknowledged he didn’t handle his two seasons in Boston the best way possible.

"I failed miserably while also not knowing how to compartmentalize or accept the emotions that come with failure, and also being on the successful side, didn't know how to handle that either," he said. "The past few years have been about that growth perspective for me and learning how to handle myself in situations and circ*mstances that are going to be more beneficial for me to learn now than learning it when I'm 38 years old."

Irving’s grandfather died during his time in Boston, and "a myriad of things that none of you in here know that I was dealing with," said Irving, who also mentioned an object thrown at him when he played for the Celtics.

"I've been able to accept what I cannot change but also change the way that I look at things to be more positive," he said. "This is fun for me, man. This is healthy. I'm glad that I can be up here on this stage speaking authentically and then also go home and be at peace."

Irving has been thoughtful, trying to offer insight into aspects of his career − winning a title in Cleveland, the brief time in Boston, refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine resulting in missed games for Brooklyn and his promotion of an anti-Semitic film that resulted in a suspension.

He has placed blame on himself for Dallas’ two losses to Boston and tried to maintain a positive attitude.

"I've been saying it all year: failure is the best teacher at times. It can inspire you to do great things," he said. "It's our first time being in the Finals as a team with this group. We understand who we're up against, the competitive level, the nature of the Finals, the competitive level we have to play at. Also, the adjustments that we have to make out there on the floor just as players."

The Mavericks will need much more from Irving to make the Finals a closer series. He needs to be closer to 25 points, five assists and 50% shooting from the field and 40% on 3-pointers.

"We truly believe that he'll knock them down, and hopefully that puts us in a position to win," Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said.

The Celtics have had a determined role in Irving’s offense. Boston’s Derrick White, Jrue Holiday, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum can defend Irving, and they are all bigger than him. They also wear him out on the other end when Irving guards one of them.

"I can be a lot more fundamentally sound, technical on my shots, not get into the paint often where it's three or four guys around me (and) I'm not making a pass," Irving said. "They're sending specific strategies against me to make it difficult."

If Irving gets by his defender, the Celtics often have centers Al Horford or Kristaps Porzingis in the paint to obstruct Irving’s shot or passing lanes. Irving got a steady dose of White in Game 1 and Holiday in Game 2, but has also faced eight defenders − clear that Boston is using its size and versatility on him.

"We know what we're in for," Irving said. "But now we have to raise it to an even higher level, and it starts with me."

Kyrie Irving needs to improve as NBA Finals moves to friendlier confines for Mavericks (2024)
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