Luka Doncic says he needs to help Kyrie Irving more after Mavs’ loss

DALLAS – Kyrie Irving’s brilliance helped the Mavericks recover from a 31-point deficit in Game 4 on Sunday, but Luka Doncic took the blame for the Clippers’ 116-111 victory in the evening.

Irving scored all 40 of his points after Los Angeles went up by 31 midway through the second quarter, including an acrobatic layup over three Clippers defenders to give the Mavs the lead with 2:15 remaining.

But Doncic struggled to meet his standards as an MVP candidate while suffering right knee soreness that led to him being listed as questionable. He finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, but he shot poorly (10 of 24 from the floor, 1 of 8 from 3-point range) and was frequently exploited on the defensive end.

“I just have to help him more,” Doncic said of Irving. “I feel like I’m letting him down, so I have to be there. I have to help him more. He gave everything he had and he was incredible for us throughout the series.”

Irving is averaging 28.8 points while shooting 51.3% from the floor and 48.5% from 3-point range. Doncic is averaging 29.0 points and struggled to find his touch against the Clippers, shooting 38.6% from the floor and 26.5% from 3-point range in the series.

Doncic has been dealing with stiffness and soreness in his right knee since he was injured during the first quarter of Friday’s Game 3 victory. This affected his ability to move laterally and create separation between the dribble and his step-back jumper.

“It hurts obviously, but that shouldn’t be an excuse, man,” said Doncic, who played 45 minutes on Sunday. “I just came out and it’s a little sloppy, so I have to be a lot better than that.”

Doncic, who takes immense pride in his vastly improved individual defense this season, was a liability on that end of the court Sunday for the first time during this first-round series. According to research from ESPN Stats & Information, the Clippers were 8 of 15 from the field with Doncic as the primary defender in Game 4, compared to 13 of 45 in the first three games of the series.

Doncic was knocked down on 12 of the 15 drives he defended, according to Second Spectrum data. The 80% completion percentage allowed is tied with the highest percentage given up by a player who defended at least 10 drives in a playoff game in the last 10 postseasons.

“I thought he did everything he could,” said Mavs coach Jason Kidd, who noted the Mavs were outscored by 15 points in Doncic’s three minutes of rest. “You’d have to ask him how his health is, but I thought he was competitive on both fronts.”

Doncic spent the entire game in foul trouble after committing two fouls in the first three minutes. He was whistled for his fifth foul with 5:55 remaining.

Doncic especially struggled guarding James Harden, who scored 15 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter, when he hit five floaters in the lane. According to Second Spectrum data, Harden recorded a blow-by on five of the six drives defended by Doncic.

“The game plan was to live with his floaters, so I was just trying not to give him 3s,” Doncic said. “But obviously it wasn’t good, especially me.”

Kidd said one of the Mavs’ halftime adjustments was to make it a priority to chase Harden and Paul George (33 points) from the 3-point line. The Clippers’ star duo combined to make 10 of 13 from 3-point range while scoring 44 points in the first half.

Harden shot just 28 percent on floaters during the regular season, but he was 5 of 6 in Game 4, all in the final five minutes.

“Living with 2s in this league doesn’t hurt you, but 3s kill you,” Kidd said. “When Harden takes a 2, it’s better than his step back or he shoots a 3, you just have to understand what they were shooting from 3 in that first half. So you have to give something up. They’re talented.”

The frustration of Doncic, who was booked for his second technical foul of the series, was evident throughout the match. He raised his arms in an exaggerated show of relief when he made his only 3, which tied the game with 5:03 to play. But he wasn’t able to contribute in the deciding moments, as his only bucket in the final five minutes was a layup with 22 seconds left, when the outcome had essentially been decided.

“He wants to play well and knows he wants to have a bigger impact, even though he’s almost averaging a triple-double for the series, but we’re still critical of him and I think he’s still critical towards himself,” Irving said. “So there’s a young kid in the playoffs playing a team that beat him twice, so there’s a little bit of mental fatigue as well. But I think that’s the beauty of the sport.

“We have another opportunity on Wednesday to be in Los Angeles and be better. So I hope these next two days are good for him — well, I know they’ll be good for him — and we We’ll be ready for Wednesday’s game.

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