Kyrie Irving gets another chance as NBA Finals return to Boston

BOSTON – Kyrie Irving left Boston disappointed and frustrated after the first two games of the NBA Finals in Boston.

Not only did the Dallas Mavericks lose the first two games on their way to a 3-0 series deficit, Irving did not play well against his former team in front of a crowd he desperately wanted to silence with his play.

Irving averaged just 14 points, shot 35.1% from the field, missed his eight 3-point attempts and struggled with his ball-handling in Game 1 and Game 2 in Boston.

“Being back in Boston, there’s such a level of desire that I have inside of me to play well,” the Mavericks guard said earlier in the series.

Irving is back in Boston for Game 5 Monday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), and if Irving isn’t better than he was in the first two games, Dallas’ chances of extending the series dwindle.

“I’m not speaking for him, but just from experience, just as an athlete, you want to get another opportunity, and he has that opportunity here,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said Sunday. “Make some adjustments and look back at Game 1 and 2 and see what they were doing to him defensively and hopefully take advantage in Game 5.”

Celtics fans have been as relentless on Irving, who played for the Celtics in 2017-18 and 2018-19, as Boston’s defense has been. They have screamed obscenities at him, let him know what they think of him as a basketball player (hint: they don’t think he’s good) and beat up an effigy of Irving outside the arena.

“Let’s just call it what it is. When the fans are cheering, ‘Kyrie sucks,’ they feel like they have a psychological edge, and that’s fair,” Irving said. “Of course, if I’m not making shots or turning the ball over, that makes it even more of a pressing issue that they can stay on me for.”

Irving expounded on the Celtics mystique at Sunday’s media availability. He was asked what it was like joining a franchise (Celtics) that is expected to win championships more often than not.

“You have to show your respect here,” he said. “I think that’s what I struggled with initially – figuring out how I’m going to be a great player here while winning championships and also leading a team and selflessly joining the Celtics’ organization or the cult that they have here.’

He then drew a laugh from himself and reporters with his next comment.

“That’s what they expect you to do as a player. They expect you to seamlessly buy into the Celtics’ pride, buy into everything Celtics.

‘And if you don’t, then you’ll be outed. I’m one of the people that’s on the outs.”

He’s on the outs all right. Irving is one of the most disliked former Celtics, at least among fans.

“I’m perfectly fine with that. I did it to myself,” he said. “They don’t welcome me with a warm embrace, even though I know a lot of people in the organization and I’m friends still with some of them.”

It’s clear Irving has given the topic – playing against the Celtics in Boston – considerable thought. He is honest about his shortcomings as a player, teammate and person in his two-year stint with the Celtics that ended with Irving leaving for the Brooklyn Nets in free agency in 2019.

His return has been a constant storyline from the start of this matchup and remains a focal point with Dallas’ season on the line, down 3-1 in the Finals.

“In order to silence even the self-doubt, let alone the crowd doubt, but the self-doubt when you make or miss shots, that’s just as important as making sure I’m leading the team the right way and being human through this experience, too, and telling them how I feel,” Irving said.

Irving played better in the two games in Dallas, averaging 28 points and shooting 50% from the field, 41.7% on 3s and 100% on free throws. He had 21 points, six assists and four rebounds in just three quarters of Dallas’ 122-84 victory in Game 4 Friday.

He is the Mavericks player with the most Finals experience. He played in three consecutive Finals for Cleveland against Golden State, and in 2016, when the Cavaliers beat Golden State in Game 7, Irving made what turned out to be the winning 3-pointer. It is one of the most clutch shots in Finals history.

The Mavericks traded for Irving in 2023 and signed him to a three-year, $120 million extension a year ago because they believed he was the right player to put alongside All-NBA guard Luka Doncic. It’s hard to argue with the result – the Mavs won the Western Conference and beat three 50-win teams to reach the Finals.

If Boston wins the title, it won’t be because of Irving’s play solely. The Celtics are tremendous and have advantages throughout the rotation. But if Dallas wants a chance of winning Game 5, they need Irving to play more like he did in Dallas.

“I try to pay attention to the positive things that got us wins here earlier in my career, but also thinking about things that I can learn from in performances that I’ve had here where I didn’t play up to par,” Irving said. “It’s just being honest about it and just breathing through the experience and having fun with it.”

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