Kyrie The Maverick
A pulse check on Kyrie Irving's first six weeks in Dallas ... and what they tell us about his future with the team
Before a double-teamed Kyrie Irving danced up and down the right wing searching in vain for some space, finally flinging the ball crosscourt to Maxi Kleber for the shot of the Dallas Mavericks' season, Irving's new team had almost exclusively known misery in late-game situations.
Until Kleber splashed in that game-winning triple from the left wing to stun the Los Angeles Lakers at the buzzer Friday night, Dallas had made only two shots in 2022-23 to take the lead or tie the game inside the final five seconds in 16 previous attempts.
One was Luka Dončić's seemingly unfathomable follow shot after his own intentionally missed free throw on the night he scored a career-high 60 points in an overtime win over the Knicks on Dec. 27. The other came from the since-released Kemba Walker, whose layup with 3.5 ticks to go at Cleveland on Dec. 17 forced overtime in an eventual 100-99 defeat.
Kleber, of course, was still smarting from his own late-game agony before sparking those joyous celebrations on the Crypto.com Arena floor that even Mavericks coach Jason Kidd couldn't resist diving into. Kleber's dreadful inbounds pass Wednesday night in San Antonio presented the Spurs with a possession from nowhere that enabled the 18-50 hosts to take Dallas to overtime.
The surprises didn't stop, though, with the first buzzer-beating shot of Kleber's life at any level (according to Kleber's own statkeeping). He had profuse praise in two separate interviews for the leadership and support he's been getting from Irving, who told the Mavericks' other power forward who hails from Würzburg, Germany, that he had just achieved instant "redemption" for the San Antonio game with his heroics at the horn in Hollywood.
"He's a very, very great teammate," Kleber said.
Some six weeks into Irving's Mavericks career, Kleber isn’t the only one saying so. For all the cynicism that quote is bound to spawn and the outright skepticism Dallas' Feb. 6 trade for Irving has already generated, No. 2 has quickly won admirers in the locker room and other wings of the organization — irrespective of the Mavericks' 7-9 record since the deal.