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Kyrie Irving And Luka Doncic Are Still Figuring It Out

Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic

Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Pure unadulterated Kyrie Irving is inadvisable in any context except the hardwood of a basketball court. Fortunately that was where Irving was on Monday night—his fourth game as a Maverick, though just his second alongside Luka Doncic—and that was what he delivered. The Wolves led by as many as 26 points in the game, and by 18 heading into the fourth. That was Irving's cue to spew 26 points of his signature unguardable fare, 11-of-12 from the field, off footwork, touch, and body control that has nearly comic timing. It was enough to make you remember why his peers look to Kyrie as some small-statured god, and why they're repeatedly willing to put up with the rest he brings to the table. Doncic, like Kevin Durant before him, has ordered a superstar with a side of doom. But this is the part he'll enjoy, before the aftertaste kicks in.

As far as team record, there isn't yet much to celebrate. Despite Kyrie's feats to close the gap, they logged their second loss as a duo. The Mavericks inbounded the ball, down 121-124, with 14.8 seconds on the clock. Two Timberwolves perimeter defenders protected the win. Jaden McDaniels, a wing with a nearly seven-foot wingspan, broke up the play by pressuring Doncic, and nearly turned him over in the backcourt. Anthony Edwards, the epitome of strength and agility whenever he decides to care, gummed up Irving. Those two can share credit for the anticlimactic conclusion to this game: a goofy hot-potato exchange between the Mavs' co-stars that yielded no shot attempt at all. (Don't ask me why the NBA account has labeled this an "OT ENDING.")

"We were going for a quick two, that was the plan," said an atypically cheery Irving in press. "It didn't end up going that way, and I should've just gave Luka a little bit more spacing. And then I thought I had a shot attempt on the second time he drove and kicked. And then I was expecting Theo [Pinson] to be in a spot, and it was just end of the clock, and adrenaline is running high, anything can happen. So I gotta get a shot up if anything, or allow Luka to have some space to get a shot, and not turn the ball over in that situation." Doncic, who uses fewer words, put it like this: "I was trying to get him a shot. He was trying to get me a shot. At the end, nobody got a shot." And as for coach Jason Kidd: "They were playing catch with one another. The next step is to figure out who’s going to shoot it—it’s going to take a little time.” (As for the general taboo on passing a late-clock "grenade" to a teammate, this is a good read, though it makes clear that a miscommunication between elite peers would be an exception.)

Irving finished with an efficient 36 points, Doncic with a steady 33, both with six assists. It will take a little bit of adjustment. Irving, who has a flair for early offense, said he was still sussing out the preferred pace of Doncic, who shuffles up the floor at produce-aisle speed. There's little reason to be pessimistic about the eventual fit between these two players on that side of the ball. In broad archetype Doncic splits the difference between LeBron James and James Harden, the ball-pounding orchestrators that Irving has thrived with in the past by spacing the floor, shredding closeouts, and redeeming borked possessions with his improvisational genius. They've only run three pick-and-rolls together, and it's a matter of weeks before that action is honed into something cruel. Buckets will be gotten. Their task is to shore up their bench minutes, and muster enough stops with two leaky superstars. But that and a WiFi timeout should do the trick.


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