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Luka Doncic says he needs to help Kyrie Irving more after Mavs loss

Luka Doncic says he needs to help Kyrie Irving more after Mavs loss

Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff WriterApr 28, 2024, 10:30 PM ET

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Joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009 Covers the Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Mavericks Appears regularly on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM DALLAS — Kyrie Irving’s scoring brilliance allowed the Mavericks to rally from a 31-point deficit in Sunday’s Game 4, but Luka Doncic blamed himself for the Clippers escaping with a series-evening 116-111 victory.

Irving scored all 40 of his points after Los Angeles went up 31 midway through the second quarter, including an acrobatic layup over three Clippers defenders to give the Mavs the lead with 2:15 remaining.

But Doncic struggled by his MVP-candidate standards while dealing with soreness in his right knee that caused him to be listed as questionable before the game. He finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, but he shot poorly (10-of-24 from the floor, 1-of-8 from 3-point range) and was frequently exploited on the defensive end.

“I just got to help him more,” Doncic said of Irving. “I feel like I’m letting him down, so I got to be there. I got to help him more. He’s given everything that he has, and he’s been amazing for us the whole series.”

Irving is averaging 28.8 points while shooting 51.3% from the floor and 48.5% from 3-point range. Doncic is averaging 29.0 points and has struggled to find his touch against the Clippers, shooting 38.6% from the floor and 26.5% from 3-point range in the series.

Doncic has dealt with stiffness and soreness in his right knee since injuring it during the first quarter of Friday’s Game 3 win. It has affected his ability to move laterally and create separation off the dribble and on his stepback jumper.

“It’s hurting obviously, but it shouldn’t be an excuse, man,” said Doncic, who played 45 minutes Sunday. “Just came out and a little sloppy, so I got to be way better than that.”

Doncic, who has taken immense pride in his drastically improved individual defense this season, was a liability on that end of the floor Sunday for the first time during this first-round series. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Clippers were 8-of-15 from the floor with Doncic as the primary defender in Game 4, compared to 13-of-45 in the first three games of the series.

Doncic was blown by on 12 of the 15 drives he defended, according to Second Spectrum data. The 80% blow-by percentage allowed is tied for the highest given up by a player who has defended at least 10 drives in a playoff game over the past 10 postseasons.

“I thought he did everything he could,” said Mavs coach Jason Kidd, who noted that the Mavs were outscored by 15 points in the three minutes Doncic rested. “You [would have] to ask him how his health, but I thought he competed on both ends.”

Doncic spent the entire game in foul trouble after picking up two fouls in the first three minutes. He was whistled for his fifth foul with 5:55 remaining.

Doncic especially struggled guarding James Harden, who scored 15 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter, when he hit five floaters in the lane. According to Second Spectrum data, Harden recorded a blow-by on five of the six drives defended by Doncic.

“The game plan was living with his floaters, so I was just trying not to give him 3s,” Doncic said. “But obviously it wasn’t good, especially me.”

Kidd said one of the Mavs’ halftime adjustments was to make it a priority to chase Harden and Paul George (33 points) off the 3-point line. The Clippers’ star duo combined to go 10-of-13 from 3-point range while scoring 44 points in the first half.

Harden shot only 28% on floaters during the regular season, but he was 5-of-6 in Game 4, all in the final five minutes.

“Living with 2s in this league doesn’t hurt you, but 3s kill you,” Kidd said. “When Harden is taking 2s, that’s better than his stepback or him shooting a 3, just understanding what they were shooting from 3 in that first half. So you got to give up something. They’re talented.”

The frustration of Doncic, who was called for his second technical foul of the series, was evident throughout the game. He raised his arms in an exaggerated display of relief when he made his lone 3, which tied the game with 5:03 remaining. But he wasn’t able to contribute in crunch time, as his only bucket in the final five minutes was a layup with 22 seconds remaining, when the outcome had been essentially decided.

“He wants to play well and knowing he wants to make a bigger impact, even though he’s almost averaging triple-double for the series, but we’re always critical of him and I think he’s always critical of himself,” Irving said. “So there’s a young kid in the playoffs going against a team that beat him twice, so there’s a little bit of a mental fatigue there as well. But I think this is what makes the beauty of sports come together.

“We have another opportunity on Wednesday to be in L.A. and be better. So hopefully these next two days will be good to him — well, I know they’ll be good to him — and we’ll be ready for Wednesday’s game.”

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