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Kyrie tells ‘hermano’ Luka: ‘I got to play better’

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DALLAS — The blame for the Dallas Mavericks being down 2-0 in the NBA Finals begins with Kyrie Irving.

Irving made that clear during a conversation with his co-star Luka Doncic in the wake of the Mavs’ Game 2 loss Sunday night to the Boston Celtics.

“It started with me just telling my hermano I got to play better for him, alongside him,” Irving said, using the Spanish word for brother, after Tuesday’s practice at the American Airlines Center. “In order for us to accomplish our goal, we both have to be playing well and we both have to be doing the little things, doing whatever it takes to win.

“Easy conversation. But it started with me reaching out, just letting him know it’s my fault, taking accountability for not playing particularly well.”

Irving averaged 14.0 points on 35.1% shooting from the floor — including 0-of-8 from 3-point range — during the Mavs’ two losses in Boston. He entered the Finals averaging 22.8 points per game on 48.5% shooting in the playoffs, highlighted by three 30-plus-point performances during Dallas’ wins in the Western Conference finals against the Minnesota Timberwolves’ top-ranked defense.

“First thing of that is just accepting that I haven’t played well or up to my standards, as well as I would have liked,” said Irving, who has lost 12 consecutive games to the Celtics, the franchise he left in free agency during the 2019 offseason.

“Being back in Boston, there’s such a level of desire that I have inside of me to play well. Wanted to be there for my teammates. As a competitor, it’s frustrating. But I don’t want to let that seep in or spill over to any other decisions I have to make there as a player.”

Boston is braced for Irving to take a more aggressive approach in Game 3, Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said.

“It’s not about shutting him down,” Mazzulla said. “It’s just about making it difficult for him because of his ability to impact plays, so we just have to fight for that. He’s gotten some good looks. I think we have to guard him better. I think he’s definitely going to be more aggressive.”

Irving made a point to note that he’s been down 2-0 in the Finals twice before.

“I know what it takes,” Irving said.

His Cleveland Cavaliers came back to beat the Golden State Warriors in seven games in 2016 — when Irving averaged 30.0 points in three straight victories to end the series, capped by hitting the winning shot in Game 7. The Warriors finished off the Cavaliers in five games in the next year’s Finals.

Irving said he can feel the stakes rise in the series against the Celtics, a 64-win team that had the NBA’s best regular-season record and has lost only twice this postseason.

“We know what we’re in for,” Irving said. “But now we have to raise it to an even higher level, and it starts with me.”

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