Boston Celtics

Kyrie Irving praises Celtics' ‘special' defense in NBA Finals

The Celtics have held the Mavs under 100 points in each game of the Finals so far.

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Kyrie Irving did not play well in the first two games of the 2024 NBA Finals, and it was among the reasons why the Dallas Mavericks lost both of those matchups to the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.

Irving scored a total of 28 points on 13-of-37 shooting (0-of-8 from 3-point range) in those first two games of the series. The Mavs needed him to step up in Game 3 in Dallas on Wednesday night, and he responded pretty well. The veteran guard scored 35 points and hit four of his six 3-point attempts. But it ultimately wasn't enough for the Mavs, who lost 106-99 to fall into an 0-3 series deficit.

Boston has held Dallas under 100 points in each of the first three games of the Finals so far, becoming the first team in NBA history to score at least 100 points and hold their opponent to under 100 points in their first three Finals games.

The Celtics, unlike the Mavericks' previous playoff opponents, have the ability to guard Irving and teammate Luka Doncic one-on-one and rarely double team either one. Irving was asked during a press conference Thursday about that aspect of the Celtics' defense, and he gave them praise.

"Yeah, very special to watch from afar, but also as a competitor, as a hooper, to be experiencing it at this level, it's an incredible teacher for me," Irving told reporters. "I use it as a moment to learn how hard it is to win, especially against a great team that's going to guard you the way that they're guarding us.

"The frustration is natural, just because you want to make every shot when you're in the Finals. You don't want to miss. You don't want to not play well. You give partial credit to them, but also there's a focus and a preparation you have to have.

"Obviously, hindsight is 20/20, but looking at the first two games and how some of my shots were a little bit pressured, more than I have had in other series, and the physicality is a little bit different."

There are still a few players on the current Celtics roster who played with Irving in Boston several years ago. He's also played against the Celtics more than 15 times since leaving the franchise as a free agent in 2019. Irving believes the Celtics' familiarity with his skill set is a benefit for them. He then went on to praise Boston some more.

"These guys on that Boston squad know my game as well. They know it well. So they've been able to scheme for me for the past few years," Irving said.

"So getting over this hump is something that's been on my mind for a while, watching them, just like everyone has been watching Boston the whole entire year, be the best team in the league. We obviously knew we would have our challenges, but this is what helps us grow.

"Going out there and competing with the best of the best, going against Jrue (Holiday) and Jaylen (Brown) and JT (Jayson Tatum) and seeing their ability to cover up some of their mistakes or trust each other to make the right plays on the defensive end has shown me what I have to continue to work on and also learn to how to think the game in a better way.

"I'm going against the best of the best, and this is what I've always dreamt of. Whether we win or lose, it's the growth that I look at and how I can continue to be a better leader for my teammates."

Irving and the Mavericks will try to stave off elimination Friday night in Game 4 at the American Airlines Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET.

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