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Kyrie Irving: Trip to NBA Finals represent redemption for Kyrie Irving...

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Published Time: 31.05.2024 - 18:04:27 Modified Time: 31.05.2024 - 18:04:27

“I think for Kai to be able to play off of Luka (Dončić) and vice-versa (was important). But there in the first half, Luka sent the message to Kai, and Kai got the message and took it in the second half.” Kyrie Irving


“The shoes turn gold and the jerseys turn gold. As a kid that’s what you dream of is to get into the Finals and be able to play against the best of the best with the whole world watching.”

The whole world was watching Thursday – well, at least several millions were – as Irving scored 19 of his game-high tying 36 points in the first half and kept firing in daggers in the second half whenever the Timberwolves thought making a push. In the end, it all underscores Irving’s leadership skills.

“I think when you look at Kai’s leadership and his ability, he’s a winner and he wants to win,” coach Jason Kidd said. “He does all the things to do that.

“I think for Kai to be able to play off of Luka (Dončić) and vice-versa (was important). But there in the first half, Luka sent the message to Kai, and Kai got the message and took it in the second half.”

It was a gratifying moment for Irving, who, when he joined the Mavs some 15 months ago, the critics lined up 100 deep on their various podcasts and TV and radio talk shows in saying his union with Dončić would never work. Needless to say, the Dončić -Irving union has unequivocally worked.

Why did it work?

“I would say it’s the patience when it comes to being around each other,” center Daniel Gafford said. “When the trade when Kyrie got here, they said Luka is not going to work well with him.

“They’re working pretty good right now, if I do say so myself. Whoever said that, they obviously need to go get their eyes checked.”

To be frank, Irving has been the ideal sounding board for Dončić. They feed off each other, as the Timberwolves discovered Thursday when Dončić took charge by scoring 20 of his 36 points in the first quarter and Irving followed by pouring in 15 of his points in the second quarter.

And when the Timberwolves made a mild threat in the fourth quarter, Irving drained a three-pointer to put the Mavs up, 108-80. Then he drilled another three-pointer to give the Mavs a comfortable 113-88 lead with 6:08 remaining in the game.

“I always tell you guys, it’s been great to have (Irving),” Dončić said. “He’s helped me mature, he’s helped me see the basketball game in a little bit different way.”

The Mavs were not favored in any of their playoff series this season against the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder or against the Timberwolves. But they eliminated the Clippers in six games, dispatched the Thunder in six games, and sent the Timberwolves packing in five games.

Irving played a major role in the various steps the Mavs made from being a non-playoff team last season to now meeting the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, which starts on June 6 in Boston.

“We had to go against some great opponents — OKC, the Clippers, the Wolves,” said Irving, who won an NBA title with Cleveland in 2016. “And I feel like got us better as a team.

“They really challenged us on the defensive end and made us focus in. I thank every single one of (the Timberwolves), as I did  the previous two series, for making me better.”

Irving was coming off a miserable Game 4 where he scored just 16 points on 6-of-18 shooting while committing four turnovers as Minnesota avoided a series sweep with a 105-100 victory in Dallas this past Tuesday. But Irving made amends in Game 5 when he was 14-of-27 from the field – including 4-of-10 from downtown – and added five assists and no turnovers in 40 -like minutes.

“I thought just being able to use his speed and get to the rim, and then he was playing off of Luka and he got a lot of great looks  – wide open looks,” Kidd said. “But then also being able to pull up going full speed.

“His ability to stop on a dime and shoot the (mid-range jump shot) was at a high rate.”

Or, as Gafford said: “Kyrie, he leads the team with positive vibes. (It’s) 24/7 from him no matter what goes on throughout the game.”

And what went on Thursday from Irving was redemption in its biggest form. Now, he’s back on the NBA’s biggest stage, preparing to add another chapter to his brilliant career, and very hopeful of nabbing another championship ring.

“I definitely don’t take this moment for granted because of how hard we had to work to get here,” Irving said. “We had to earn our spot into the NBA Finals.”

LIVELY ENDURED ANOTHER HARD FALL: For Dereck Lively II, this must have seemed like a déjà vu moment.

With 2:24 remaining in the first half of Thursday’s Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Naz Reid was assessed a Flagrant Foul Penalty-1 for popping Lively in the head as the Dallas Mavericks’ backup center was attempting a field goal.

Lively laid on the floor for a minute as his teammates held their breath. But that wasn’t as long as he laid on the court this past Sunday for approximately five minutes in Game 3 of this series after he was inadvertently kneed in the back of his head after he collided with the right knee of forward Karl-Anthony Towns.

Lively was diagnosed with a neck sprain, forcing him to miss Game 4. But fortunately, he was not injured during Thursday’s unfortunate mishap.

“I got clocked in the head again,” Lively said. “I feel like no matter what’s going on, no matter how hard of an injury is going on, I just think back to what my mama was going through, how much pain she was going through.

“Me getting clocked in the head, me getting kneed in the head ain’t got (anything) on what she was going through. So that means I can’t sit on the ground, I can’t act like I’m hurt. I got to keep going. No matter how much pain I’m going through, it ain’t (anything) compared to her.”

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