BOSTON – Those “M-V-P” chants you hear from Celtics fans when Kyrie Irving is on the free-throw line, will likely be alive and well tonight at some point against the Dallas Mavericks.
But the locals aren’t the only ones who see the four-time All-Star as deserving to be in the MVP conversation.
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“He’s a legit MVP candidate,” said Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle.
He certainly looked like one the last time Boston played the Mavericks, a game in which Irving scored 47 points, the most he has scored since becoming a Celtic.
“He’s a great player,” Carlisle said. “He did virtually anything he wanted. So we have to give more resistance and make it tougher on him.”
That will be a lot easier said than done, especially with Irving playing some of his most efficient basketball like, ever.
He’s averaging 23.5 points per game, shooting a career-best 48.7 percent from the field.
In his past five games, Irving has shot 50 percent in four of them while shooting 52.1 percent overall in the span.
“When one guy goes for 47 points, it’s going to be hard to beat that team,” Carlisle said. “He’s one of those players, you gotta try and do something to slow him down a little bit.”
Here’s a look at five below-the-radar storylines to keep tabs on as the Celtics (21-4) look to close out their five-game homestand with another victory:
ONE MORE TIME
At 39, tonight may be the last time Dirk Nowitzki plays in front of the TD Garden crowd. While he has given no indications that he plans to retire, it’s clearly an option for Nowitzki who is now in his 20th NBA season. While Nowitzki doesn’t dominate games the way we’ve seen him in past years, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t improved upon facets of his game even at this advanced stage of his career. Nowitzki, averaging just 11.1 points per game, comes into tonight’s matchup shooting 43.4 percent from 3-point range which would a career-high if he maintained it for the rest of the season.
Jayson Tatum has shot the 3-ball better than any player this season, but by no means are the Celtics a team with just one long-range shooter. As a team, Boston has stepped up its 3-point shooting across the board. That’s why in the past six games, the Celtics are shooting 43.4 percent on 3’s which ranks third in the league in that span.
‘D’ IN DALLAS
Dallas has won four of its past six since losing to the Celtics. And the key to that newfound success has been their defense. In those six games, the Mavericks have a defensive rating of 101.0, which ranks fourth in the league in that span. Dallas also ranks in top 10 in defensive rebound percentage, opponent points off turnovers; opponent second-chance points; opponent points in the paint.
RUN, CELTICS RUN
While Dallas’ defense has improved, the Mavericks still have trouble getting back while limiting opponent’s transition offense. For the season, Dallas ranks 28th in opponent fast-break points with 14.1 allowed per game. And in the past six games, their transition defense has been even worse - giving up 17.7 points via fast breaks - which is the most of any team in the league in that span.
Both Boston and Dallas are getting quality production from some of the youngest players in the NBA. Second-year wing Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum are in the starting lineup for Boston and have proven themselves to be significant contributors to a Celtics team that boasts the best record in the NBA. Dallas has a star on the rise of its own, in Dennis Smith Jr. who comes into tonight’s game averaging 14.5 points along with 4.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game.
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