LOS ANGELES – The roles were completely reversed on Wednesday at Crypto.com Arena.
No, not with Kyrie Irving taking over for Luka Dončić as the lone superstar on the floor.
It was Theo Pinson slicing up the Los Angeles Clippers’ defense while Dončić was on the bench, cheering and celebrating his teammate’s on-court success.
And in the postgame, it continued, with Pinson sitting down at the interview microphone and saying: “This is different.”
Many things are different now for the Mavericks, who whacked the Clippers 110-104 to improve to 30-26 and 2-1 on this five-game trip that ends this weekend in Sacramento.
And Pinson, who has been a hood ornament for most of his tenure with the Mavericks, already has justified his salary for this season by sparking the Mavericks during this stretch when Dončić has been sidelined with a right heel contusion and with Irving not yet fully integrated to the program.
And nobody sees the possibilities better than the 6-5 Pinson.
“Bona fide pro – just a great basketball player,” Pinson said of Irving, a star he played with in Brooklyn in 2019. “I think everybody gets mixed up by thinking basketball is just scoring. He attracts so much attention, it helps everybody. And now we got two guys like that who open up the floor for everybody.
“The sky’s the limit. We’re figuring it out, man. We really are figuring it out. The Josh Greens, Jaden Hardy, Reggie Bullock, Tim Hardaway, myself – just taking away a little bit of pressure off those guys makes those guys relax and just play basketball.”
And play it very well. The Mavericks controlled everything, even defensively, against the Clippers. Bullock hounded Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and got lots of help. The Mavericks pushed the ball when they rebounded it.
And they did rebound it. For the third game in a row, they outrebounded their opponent, something they had not done since Christmas (19 consecutive games).
And Kyrie showed why he’s been one of the best superstars in the game for a decade.
As Mavericks’ governor Mark Cuban told ESPN: “He’s a hall of famer, so why would you do it any other way when you get a chance to get somebody (of that quality). He’s a superstar. Why wouldn’t you take that chance?”
And to see it evolve with Luka coming back, possibly Friday against the Kings, is going to be must-see Mav TV.
Which brings us to the top Kyrie highlights of the win over the Clips:
FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL: Even when you’ve done this job for a dozen years, you’re still allowed to get nervous. And Irving admitted there were a few butterflies floating around in his stomach. “Just natural nerves,” he said. “I was talking to my wife after the game. And she was asking: are you OK. She could tell in my face that I had a lot of emotion going on. I did my best to flow through them.” The good news is that Irving knows this isn’t a pod race in Star Wars. He can take things slowly, be patient and let things evolve organically. He didn’t even feel the need to hunt down Dončić and start hashing out any sort of to-do list or anything like that. “It’s been four hours,” he said of the time since Luka landed in LA and the game ending. “He just popped into the locker room. There’s no pressure for us to sit down and chop it up all the time. I’ve been in this business for 12 years now, when I see somebody that has that special talent, you just got to get to know them first. I don’t want to force anything on them or do anything out of my norm.”
THE BALL WAS POPPING: The Mavericks’ pace was decidedly faster than it is when Luka is dominating the ball. That stands to reason with Kyrie pushing the tempo and others doing a lot of the ballhandling. And the Mavericks are like everybody else: they can’t wait to see how it looks when Irving and Dončić are alongside each other. Said Pinson: “Beautiful. Pick your poison.”
NO ALPHA-DOG CONFUSION HERE: In golf, they call it the ham-and-egg effect. Play hard, and when you have a bump in the road, let your partner pick you up. If the Mavericks master that, they’ll be fine. If it wasn’t clear when Jason Kidd said this will continue to be Luka’s team during the first news conference after the trade for Irving was official, Irving echoed that sentiment with his comments after his Mavericks’ debut. “Don’t overthink anything and have fun,” was the prime message from Irving. “Luka’s been playing professionally for so long, he’s seen every defense,” Irving said. “He leads the league in first-quarter scoring. So he’s going to be super-aggressive. I just try to read the game at a very high level and let the defense make mistakes first and then try to impose my will.”
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