NBA Is One Game Away From a Grudge Match in the Finals

If the Mavs beat the Wolves, it's Boston versus Kyrie for the Larry O'Brien Trophy

Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving makes a face.
To win a title, the Celtics will likely have to go through the Mavericks and Kyrie Irving.
Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty

With the Mavericks holding a commanding 3-0 series lead against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference Finals with Game 4 set for tonight, basketball fans are a Dallas win away from getting a matchup for the ages that will potentially include plenty of rage and sage, courtesy of Mavs guard Kyrie Irving.

Assuming Dallas handles business tonight or in Game 5, 6 or 7, they will head to Boston next week to take on a Celtics team that erased a fourth-quarter deficit for the third time in four games to beat the Indiana Pacers and sweep the Eastern Conference Finals. Losers in the Finals two seasons ago, the Celtics will be favored to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy, but they’ll need to vanquish an old foe to hoist Banner 18 to the rafters in Boston.

After he was an NBA champion with the Cleveland Cavaliers and before he was an anti-vax malcontent with a bold anti-Semetic streak for the Brooklyn Nets, Dallas’s Irving was with the Celtics for two seasons and insisted he intended to sign an extension that would keep him in green for years to come. That didn’t happen, as Irving had a behind-the-scenes agreement to team up with Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, a plan the eight-time All-Star vehemently denied until it came to fruition.

Since then, the mercurial point guard (who shot .356 in the playoffs with the C’s in 2019 and .444 against them as a member of the Nets in 2022) has been persona non grata in Boston, and a number of incidents featuring poor behavior from all involved have not eased matters. Since arriving in Dallas after his rough exit from Brooklyn, Irving has been a model citizen by all accounts. However, that has not translated to success against his former team.

A loser of 10 straight games to the Celtics, a streak that includes a series sweep during the ’22 NBA playoffs when he was with the Brooklyn Nets, Irving last took the floor in Boston in March in a game the Mavs lost 138-110. Dallas star Luka Doncic played well against Boston, but Irving struggled to find his rhythm and finished with 19 points on 9-of-23 shooting, including 1-of-7 from the 3-point range. The performance did not go unnoticed at TD Garden, where Irving was booed and regaled with a very loud “Kyrie sucks” chant.

Instead of telling fans what they could do with one of his body parts as he had in the past, Irving took the high road after the loss. “They have a right to boo. From my career record against them in the last few games, I haven’t won so until I beat them, they have all the right to continue to boo,” he said. “I think that’s what makes the theatrics of sports and competitive sports fun. Just gotta embrace it. It’s part of it.”

Radical Hebrew Israelites Backing Kyrie Irving Get Support From Jaylen Brown
The Black Hebrew Israelites are categorized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center

But most Celtics players still seem to like him (especially Jaylen Brown), despite him leaving many of them in the lurch. Despite what Irving said in March, it’s hard to imagine he won’t have some added motivation to rip a title out of Boston’s hands and give Lucky one more parting shot.

We will (probably) see when the 2024 NBA Finals begin on June 6 at TD Garden in Boston. The full schedule, which features a ridiculous amount of time between games, is here. Considering no NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series (0-154) and only four teams have even forced a Game 7 (with one being last year’s Celtics squad), it’s a near lock the Mavs will be in Massachusetts on 6/6. Get your sage ready.

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