NBA Finals: Kyrie Irving's Game 1 dud vs. Celtics extends three-year winless streak against former team

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On the eve of the NBA Finals, Boston Celtics guard Jrue Holiday was asked how his team could possibly stop talented Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving. Holiday’s answer was simple: Pray.

For at least one night the basketball gods smiled favorably upon the Celtics, as Irving was held under wraps in Boston’s dominant 107-89 Game 1 victory over Dallas on Thursday night. The eight-time All-Star whom LeBron James just called “the most gifted player the NBA has ever seen” scored just 12 points on 6-for-19 shooting, including 0-of-5 from 3-point range. The 31.6% field goal mark was his worst ever for an NBA Finals game, and he also committed three turnovers compared to two assists.

While the kneejerk reaction may be to chalk this up to a rare off night for the dynamic guard, it continues a trend that’s particularly alarming for the Mavericks and their fans: Irving hasn’t won a game against Boston in over three years. That’s right, Irving has now lost 11 consecutive games against his former team, including the regular season and playoffs, with the last win coming in Game 5 of the 2021 first-round series between Boston and the Brooklyn Nets. 

In the 11 straight losses, Irving has averaged 20 points on 41% shooting from the field and 28% from 3-point range. Those numbers are all down significantly from his career marks of 25.6 points, 50% field goals and 41% 3s. Irving is now 10-for-47 (21%) from 3-point range in his last six games against the Celtics.  

While occasionally great players struggle against certain teams for no particular reason, Boston’s incredible defensive length and versatility serve as potential reasons for Irving’s struggles. With All-Defensive stalwarts Holiday and Derrick White constantly hounding him — former Celtic Marcus Smart before them — and long wings like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown able to provide help, you can see why Irving would have a hard time finding the space that he’s been able to uniquely create for the majority of his 13-year NBA career.

“I think that they really rely on their great defensive ball pressure, one-on-one defenders and they funnel us into certain areas,” Irving said after the Game 1 loss. “Every time I got an iso, there’s almost two, three people waiting for me to get in there.”

Here’s an example from late in the third quarter, when Irving gets a step on Holiday, who continues to ride his hip into the lane. From there, Irving thinks he’s clear because the Celtics’ only big man on the floor — Al Horford — is switched onto Derrick Jones Jr. on the perimeter. But as Irving goes up for the layup, Brown quickly slides over, elevates and sends the attempt into the stands. It was one of three shots that Irving had blocked on Thursday, not something that often happens to the ball-handling and shot-creating wizard.

Irving missed a lot of shots in Game 1 that he’ll likely make as the series progresses, including some floaters around the basket and open 3-pointers, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that he has put up consistently subpar numbers against his old team for the past few years.

“I felt like I had a lot of great looks that hit back rim or they were just a little left or right. So I’ve just gotta stay confident and stay poised throughout this,” Irving said. “The environment’s gonna be what it is, but my focus is on our game plan and making sure my guys feel confident and I feel confident and continue to shoot great shots.”

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