Kyrie Irving on Mavericks losing NBA Finals: ‘Failing at this stage definitely sucks’

BOSTON — The derogatory chants were back, directed squarely at Kyrie Irving. So were his missed shots.

Irving’s chance at redemption against his former team ended as it began nearly two weeks ago — with the Boston Celtics jumping all over his Dallas Mavericks, New Englanders jumping all over him and his shots bouncing off all parts of the rim.

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In the Mavericks’ 106-88 loss to the Celtics in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, which clinched the series for Boston, Irving shot 5 of 16 and finished with 15 points — but a few of those baskets came in the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand.

Irving’s three games at TD Garden were brutal: He shot 18 of 52 (.346) and 3 of 17 from 3-point land. He had talked about the fans chanting “Kyrie sucks” during Games 1 and 2, and how those catcalls got into his head in part because he couldn’t respond with better play, and that trend continued in Game 5.

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“Basketball is a game of centimeters, man, sometimes inches, so when a ball is flying off your hands, sometimes it’s going to feel good, sometimes it isn’t,” Irving said.

The series-long introspection Irving offered about his tumultuous two years and abrupt departure from Boston was absent from his postgame remarks. He spoke more broadly about the Mavericks, a No. 5 seed who changed themselves at the trade deadline with key trades, reaching the finals and then falling short.

When Irving checked out of the game for the final time — with 2:37 remaining and the result long decided — he offered congratulatory hugs to his former teammates and Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla. He said it was a “sign of respect” toward the Celtics for overcoming their previous shortcomings, including a 2022 finals loss and losing in the conference finals last season.

“Failing at this stage definitely sucks,” Irving said. “It’s a bitter feeling because you want to keep playing and you feel like your best game is coming up next and the shots that you shoot in the next game are coming up. And now we got to wait two and a half months, three and a half months so the new champion gets a chance.”

Irving finished the series averaging 19.8 points, buoyed by two stronger showings in the games in Dallas, including a 35-pointer in a close loss in Game 3. Irving has appeared in four finals and won once — in 2016. His fractured kneecap suffered in Game 1 of the 2015 finals might have cost the Cleveland Cavaliers that series, and then in 2017 and again with the Mavericks, Irving’s teams suffered gentlemen’s sweeps.

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Following his rocky tenure in Boston (the Celtics reached the conference finals during Irving’s first year there, with him out for much of the year with knee surgeries), Irving’s personal and injury struggles continued in Brooklyn. Only since joining the Mavericks, and pairing with Luka Dončić, has Irving’s career stabilized.

The Mavericks blasted through the Western Conference finals in five games, and pundits wondered if the Celtics could stop Dončić and Irving — one of the great backcourt pairings in NBA history. As it turned out, the Celtics could stop them just fine.

“I look at it as, you know, an opportunity for us to observe what we did well this year as a group and how me and Luka can be better as the leaders of the team. One of a few of the leaders on the team, and really just enjoy the ups and downs of what’s coming because now we know what to expect,” Irving said. “Success can be new for a lot of people, too. But when you fail at the finals, it’s not something that you want to carry the disappointment forever or on to next season.

“We worked extremely hard to be one of the final two teams. We didn’t achieve our goal, but we achieved most of our goal. So, this is just the last step that we have to get back to, and we know it’s not going to be easy.”

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(Photo: Peter Casey / USA Today)

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