2024 NBA Finals: Kyrie Irving holds the keys to Game 2, and the Mavericks can't survive another stinker



Kyrie Irving averaged just 15 points and was held to single digits twice in the Dallas Mavericks’ second-round series vs. the Thunder. Dallas still won in six games, but the Celtics are not the Thunder. They are much too powerful offensively, particularly with Kristaps Porzingis back, for Dallas to have a chance of winning this series with Irving putting up anything close to the 12 points he contributed in Game 1. 

It really is that simple. 

Still, that doesn’t mean Irving turning in a big scoring night in Game 2 will actually be simple. We love to throw around the idea that superstars can simply decide when and where to take over a game, but defenses do have a say in the matter. The Thunder guarded Irving with Jalen Williams and had a stable of credible perimeter defenders ready to assist on switches. He might have been a bit passive, but it wasn’t like he was consistently passing up open invitations to score. 

The Celtics stuck Irving with Jrue Holiday, who is still the best on-ball defender in the world, and I don’t care what anyone has to say about Jalen Suggs or Jaden McDaniels or Herb Jones or Mikal Bridges or anyone else. Boston is also outfitted with a star-studded lineup of ready-made switchers. 

In Game 1, Irving had one-on-one shots thwarted by everyone from Al Horford to Sam Hauser. He dribbled off his foot against Derrick White. He passed a ball straight out of bounds. He missed wide-open 3s and a handful of pull-up jumpers that are usually automatic. Holiday made him airball one long, which fortunately turned into an accidental lob for Dereck Lively, which would qualify as the only one of those the Mavericks converted. Irving scored just four points after the 11-minute mark of the second quarter. 

One of the main issues, if not the main issue, was Boston’s collective decision, and ability, to credibly cover Luka Doncic with a single defender. This allowed Boston’s peripheral defenders to stay home on the likes of Irving, who typically has opportunities to create against shifting defenses that have sold out to double Doncic. 

Doncic was inefficient himself, finishing with 30 points on 26 shots and struggling to beat Boston’s point-of-attack defense. If he can get hot early in Game 2, enough so that Boston actually feels threatened to adjust, maybe the Celtics will decide to send a second defender and things will loosen up for Irving. 

But that would suggest Irving, like the rest of the non-Luka Mavs, requires an unsettled defense to score, which he doesn’t. Everyone is aware of Irving’s unparalleled creative powers. Before the Finals started, Holiday was asked how to cover Irving. “Pray,” he said. If that’s true, then the good lord must’ve been a Celtics fan in Game 1. But Irving, even against the defenders the Celtics can throw at him, is great enough to flip even the holiest of allegiances in Game 2. He needs to do it. 

Because unlike the Celtics, who can not just survive but actually still thrive even when one of their stars is held to 16 points on 16 shots, as Jayson Tatum was in Game 1, Dallas probably doesn’t have that luxury against this Boston team and its overwhelming offensive firepower. Doncic and Irving probably need to combine for 60-plus if Boston is going to stay true to its strategy of not leaving shooters and boxing out Gafford and Lively as lob threats, because those peripheral Mavs players are not going to score without Doncic and Irving first creating the leverage. 

The Celtics flat out dared Dallas’ stars to beat them in Game 1. They gave them single coverage all night long. The Mavs couldn’t do it. Doncic, who recorded just one assist as Boston took away all his passing options and forced him to score one-on-one, was contained to about the highest degree possible given his talent and he still got 30. Irving was basically a no-show for the final three quarters.

It has to be a different story in Game 2. Irving, as one of the two Dallas players who can create offense under any circumstance, has to play with a level of urgency befitting a must-win game. Also, it can’t be about jacking up off-the-dribble 3s in an effort to keep up with Boston. Irving has to beat the guy in front him. Consistently. He needs to get into the paint for his own buckets and, when Boston does collapse, to give the Dallas shooters a chance to get going themselves. 

Because Dallas needs more than Irving and Doncic to keep up with Boston. It just has to start with those two. They have to score big, and then get help from there. You can pretty much pencil in Doncic for 30, though it needs to be more efficient than it was in Game 1. Irving, however, is the wild card. If he lays another egg in Game 2, the Mavericks are going to find themselves in an 0-2 hole, and at that point, they’re going to be the ones who need to start praying. 





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