LOS ANGELES — About an hour after his debut with the Dallas Mavericks, Kyrie Irving took a seat at the front of the crowded visitors’ news conference room at Crypto.com Arena and was immediately asked about his former Brooklyn Nets teammate Kevin Durant being traded to the Phoenix Suns, news that broke minutes before.
“I’m happy we got the win,” Irving said with a chuckle. “Can we start with our team first? Start with our team first.”
It was certainly an impressive start for Irving, the eight-time All-Star who was acquired by Dallas in a blockbuster deal for guard Spencer Dinwiddie, forward Dorian Finney-Smith, an unprotected 2029 first-round pick and two second-rounders. Irving scored 24 points and dished out five assists to lead the Mavericks to a 110-104 win Wednesday night over the LA Clippers.
“Amazing,” Luka Doncic told ESPN, needing only one word to sum up his first impression of Irving in a Mavericks uniform. Doncic missed his third consecutive game due to a right heel contusion, watching and cheering from the Dallas bench after flying to L.A. earlier in the day.
With Irving running the offense, the Mavs got off to a scorching start, scoring 41 points in the first quarter and jumping to a 19-point lead. Dallas held off a Clippers comeback, with Irving making the dagger bucket, driving through the Los Angeles defense and contorting his body to make a layup over Kawhi Leonard with 1:17 remaining.
Irving appeared remarkably comfortable with his new team after getting only one practice with the Mavericks.
“That’s how talented he is,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said. “He makes things look easy. He works on his craft. He’s a pro, up for any challenge.”
Dallas had lost its first seven games that Doncic missed this season before Monday’s 124-111 road win over the Utah Jazz. The Mavs’ struggles to score when Doncic wasn’t on the floor — an offensive efficiency that would rank last in the league — was the primary reason Dallas took the risk of giving up significant assets for Irving with no guarantee that he would re-sign after his contract expires at the end of the season.
“Just because he’s a Hall of Fame player,” Mavs governor Mark Cuban said. “You go with what you’ve got. He’s a Hall of Famer, so why would you do it any other way when you get a chance to get somebody [of] his quality on the court? He’s a superstar. … Why wouldn’t you take that chance?”
The Mavs’ offense flowed smoothly in Irving’s first game despite Doncic’s absence. Dallas shot 52.6% from the floor and 48.6% (17-of-35) from 3-point range.
Irving, who averaged 27.1 points in 40 games for the Nets this season, made it a point to play within the flow of the game instead of trying to dominate the ball. He finished 9-of-17 from the floor and 4-of-8 from 3-point range. He frequently gave the ball up early in possessions when the Clippers sent an extra defender at him, beginning a series of crisp ball movement that repeatedly generated good shots for teammates.
“I think the most important thing that we stressed as a team was just don’t force the ball to me,” Irving said. “We talked about that as a squad where we just want to play natural basketball. You don’t always have to come to me. I can play off the ball, I can cut. So they’re just getting used to playing with me and just seeing how many open shots I can create for them and the double-teams that are coming.
“Then I’m sure when No. 77 gets back, it will be even more enjoyable to see and play out there.”
Doncic did on-court work and received treatment in Dallas this week before flying to Los Angeles to join the Mavs midway through a five-game road trip. Kidd said it’s possible Doncic could be cleared to return for one game in the back-to-back against the Sacramento Kings on Friday and Saturday.
“I think this is a great challenge for Luka, and I think Luka is up for the challenge to show that he can play with another superstar,” Kidd said.
In regards to his last superstar teammate, Irving expressed happiness about Durant being traded to the Suns, even though it made a Western Conference rival stronger.
“I’m just praying for his happiness, praying for his well-being,” Irving said. “We had a lot of conversations throughout the year of what our futures were going to look like. There was still a level of uncertainty, but we just cared about seeing each other be places that we can thrive — whether that be together, whether that be apart. There’s never been one moment where I felt like he’s been angry at me for decisions I’ve made or I’ve been angry at him. We just tried to understand each other a lot better and grow as human beings, grow as brothers.
“This business changes so quickly. He’s getting a little bit older. I’m getting a little bit older. I just love the competition now that we can be in the same conference, and I welcome all that. Get to see him a little bit more, probably playing against Phoenix a lot more, and that’s what I’m looking forward to. Everything else in between — I’m just glad that he got out of there.”