Kyrie Irving is still perfect in closeout games, and moving on with Luka Doncic and the Mavs

DALLAS (AP) — Kyrie Irving wowed the crowd with a crossover move that helped create just enough space for him to let fly with a leaning 3-pointer.

Luka Doncic's co-star with the Dallas Mavericks was bumped and fell with the shot in the air, and his teammates were right there to mob him when the shot went in as the whistle blew.

The four-point play was a punctuating moment in a 114-101 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night that sent the Mavericks into the second round of the playoffs with a 4-2 series victory.

Dallas beat LA for the first time in three first-round tries over the past five seasons — and Irving improved to 13-0 in closeout games for his career.

“When I think about 13-0 in closeout games in general, I just know you’ve just got to get there to that point to be able to be ready to have the other team submit,” said Irving, who scored 28 of his 30 points in the second half. “It’s one of the hardest things to do as a competitor is to have your opponent concede or submit.”

The fifth-seeded Mavericks open the Western Conference semifinals at the top seed, Oklahoma City, on Tuesday night.

“Never in doubt with Kai,” Doncic said. “It's amazing to see the kind of plays he makes.”

The Mavs added Irving at the trade deadline last year, hoping to create an All-Star pairing that would at least match the run to the West finals from 2022.

Instead, injuries and inconsistencies kept the chemistry from developing, and Dallas missed the playoffs, unceremoniously tanking late in the regular season to try to preserve a draft pick.

Irving's health was a big part of a surge into the top six in the West over the final two months of this season when it appeared the play-in tournament might have to be the route.

Now the Mavs have a series victory in the first postseason together for two players with a combined 13 All-Star appearances.

“I’m just in awe each and every night,” said P.J. Washington, a trade deadline addition this year and a key provider of 3-point shooting and defense. “They’re special players and they make special plays each and every night.”

Irving was 10 of 13 from the field in the second half, starting with a layup that broke a 52-52 halftime tie. After a 3-pointer from Doncic, Irving added a 3 for an 8-0 run. Dallas didn't trail again.

Doncic has been dealing with a sore knee that is affecting his shooting — the NBA scoring champion shot 24% from 3-point range for the series against the Clippers.

Irving hasn't been scoring early — just 10 points combined in the first quarters of the six games against LA. But he's been scoring late.

The 28 points in the second half of the clincher matched Irving's playoff career high for a half. And in a Game 4 loss, Irving scored all 40 of his points after the Clippers had taken a 31-point lead as Dallas rallied to take the lead before losing by five.

“Just his calmness, his energy was always positive in the locker room,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. “And that’s just the leadership and trust that the guys have on the floor with him.”

Doncic finally beat the Clippers after losing each of the first two playoff series of his career to Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and company in 2020 and 2021.

Now the Slovenian superstar takes aim at a postseason run that at least matches 2022, when Dallas stunned Phoenix in Game 7 on the road in the West semis before losing to eventual champion Golden State in five games in the West finals.

After winning the franchise's only championship in 2011, Dallas didn't have another playoff series victory until beating Utah in the first round two years ago. Now the Mavs have won three of their past four series.

Doncic will take the three days off that Dallas gets for closing out the series against the Clippers. He just doesn't expect the rest to make a huge difference with his knee.

“I don't think it's going to be better before I get some rest,” Doncic said. “It's a lot of minutes.”

The Mavs are hoping for plenty more minutes.

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