DALLAS — Once again, the Dallas Mavericks couldn’t finish with their pair of All-Stars on the floor together.
In that case, Kyrie Irving missed a contested 3-pointer on the final possession of a 124-122 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night. It was the fourth time in five games Irving has played with Luka Doncic that the Mavs have lost, with all losses coming by one possession — far from the momentum Dallas was hoping to get when it closed out the blockbuster with the O. Brooklyn Nets to acquire Irving.
“I just appreciate the coaching staff and my teammates for trusting me with that shot and just the comfort they gave me afterward,” Irving said after the loss, which dropped Dallas to seventh in the Western Conference standings. “I really want to win here, I really put a lot of pressure on myself sometimes. I think I have to tone it down a little bit, just because the second half of the season, I just feel like we have to be great every single possession, and usually those learning curves or learning moments happen in the preseason, and it’s happening now.
“So it definitely puts a spotlight on what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong. It’s easy to criticize, but for us, I just have to focus on being the best I can be and performing not only for Luca, but for the teammates my”.
The loss put a damper on Doncic’s 24th birthday, but he had no trouble making the play late in the game as he watched from the corner as Irving isolated on Pacers guard TJ McConnell.
“It was a good shot,” said Doncic, who had 39 points, nine rebounds and six assists in the loss. “It’s Kyrie. He can make a lot of those shots, and we trust him.”
Irving is averaging 24.7 points and 6.9 assists in seven games with the Mavs, including a pair of wins Doncic missed while recovering from a sprained heel soon after the deal. But Irving hasn’t shot well in Dallas’ last two games, going a combined 15-40 from the floor in home losses to the Los Angeles Lakers (when the Mavs blew a 27-point lead) and the Pacers.
Irving acknowledged he feels pressure to perform after joining a high-profile trade and joining the Mavs as they fight for a playoff seed during the second half of the season.
“The last two games, I just haven’t played with the fluidity of my game and just filling in and just doing the little things to win,” said Irving, who had 16 points on 7-for-18 shooting and nine assists on the night of Tuesday. “I mean, it’s natural. It comes with him. And also, as a human, of course I want to fit in with everyone and not step on anyone’s toes.
“But the magnitude of the moments sometimes require special people to step up and do the extra stuff. I’m in that place now, but I think I just have to slow down and let the game come to me and flow into it, because when we play so tight, I can feel the tension around me. I think I just have to settle in and stay ready.”
Irving is used to playing next to another superstar, something Doncic is experiencing for the first time in the NBA. Irving won a title as LeBron James’ assistant with the Cleveland Cavaliers and joined the Nets as a free agency package with Kevin Durant.
The Mavs hoped pairing Irving with Doncic would give them a chance to contend for a championship, but Irving doesn’t think he’s held up his end of the bargain yet while playing with the NBA’s scoring leader.
“It’s big business, baby,” Irving said. “It’s the big business. As much pressure as I put on myself, I have goals that I’d like to achieve, but they all get pushed to the side because I know I have 15 other guys on this team that rely on me. I do things that either they’ve seen me do or expect me to do as one of the best players in the league. So sitting next to Luka, I just have to show up to the party.
“I’ve been in situations in this league. Some have been failures, some have been successes, but in recent years I have made it my goal to be stronger mentally, especially when dealing with the rigors of this mentally, physically, emotionally. He will come. He will come.”