Lun. May 27th, 2024

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DALLAS — Kyrie Irving danced with his dribble, crossing over a few times in front of Clippers forward P.J. Tucker, before sidestepping and launching a 3-pointer from the corner in front of the Mavericks’ bench.

The Mavs were up 20 midway through the fourth quarter, putting the Clippers on the brink of elimination, and Irving was putting the exclamation point on his spectacular closeout performance. He got fouled by Tucker as he launched the jumper and mobbed by his teammates when the shot splashed through the net.

It was an instantly iconic moment, the most memorable highlight of Irving’s scorching second half in the Mavs’ series-clinching 114-101 win Friday night at the American Airlines Center.

«I was on the floor looking, kind of squinting and seeing if it went in,» Irving said after improving his record to 13-0 when his team can clinch a series during his career, the best record in closeout games in NBA history. «Just seeing my teammates’ reactions, that was the best part of it. We knew that was kind of like the dagger in the series.»

Irving scored 28 of his 30 points after halftime as the Mavs earned the right to advance to face the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals. That matched the most of any playoff half of his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

MVP candidate Luka Doncic finally got the best of the Clippers, the franchise that eliminated Doncic’s Mavs in the first two playoff series of his career, in large part because of Irving’s poise and brilliance. Doncic struggled by his standards in the series while dealing with a right knee sprain he anticipates won’t fully recover until he can rest this summer, averaging 29.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 9.5 assists but shooting only 40.5% from the floor in the six games.

Irving excelled throughout the series, averaging 26.5 points on 51.4% shooting — and he was especially dominant after halftime. He averaged 20.0 points in the second halves of the six games, shooting 60% from the floor and 53% from 3-point range.

«I would say unbelievable,» Doncic said after scoring 28 points on 9-of-26 shooting while adding seven rebounds and 13 assists in the elimination game. «So it’s even more special, but just to have the guy like that on your team, it’s a pleasure. Just working with him, just playing with him, it’s a pleasure no matter what. He’s always positive energy, always. Not even one second of negative energy, which helps a lot, helps everybody and we’re so happy to have him.»

The score was tied at halftime after Irving scored only two points on 1-of-6 shooting in the first two quarters.

At one point in the second quarter, Doncic was making a concerted effort to get Irving more involved. Irving calmly assured his co-star that he would find his groove within the flow of the game.

«Never a doubt with Kai,» Doncic said with a smile.

«He don’t force anything,» Mavs forward Derrick Jones Jr. said. «He lets the game come to him and he knows the perfect moments where he should be more ultra-aggressive.»

Irving and the Mavs seized control of the game immediately after halftime. Dallas opened the third quarter with an 8-0 run to take the lead for good. The spurt started with Irving finishing a fast break with a layup off a feed from Doncic and ended with an Irving 3 in transition.

«You give someone like Kai those looks, that basket gets bigger and bigger,» Clippers star Paul George said. «I thought that was really all he needed to see. Everything else was a playground for him.»

Irving scored 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the third quarter as the Mavs pushed their lead to 15 points. He had 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the fourth quarter as Dallas prevented the Clippers from ever mounting a comeback threat.

«It was like 2K,» Mavs forward P.J. Washington said. «He had a Mamba takeover. He was just doing what he does. He’s special, and I’m just glad to be on his team.»

Irving also dominated on the defensive end of the floor. According to ESPN Stats & Information tracking, the Clippers were 2-of-18 from the floor with Irving as the primary defender in Game 6.

«I just got to get there to that point to be able to be ready to have the other team submit,» Irving said. «One of the hardest things to do as a competitor is to have your opponent concede or submit. And I do want to take this time to give respectful shoutout and also show my respect to the Clippers organization and the players. It’s always fun, and they got me better.»

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