Kyrie Irving said late in the season that the Mavs were just getting started. He was right

Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving answers questions during a news conference after the Mavericks defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves in Game 5 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals, Thursday, May 30, 2024, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Matt Krohn)


AP Basketball Writer

Kyrie Irving was not making a threat, nor was he boasting, nor was he saying anything that would be considered outlandish. It was the final week of the regular season. He and the Dallas Mavericks had just clinched a division title and Irving was asked to talk about what it means.

He didn’t look back. He looked ahead.

“We just know that the job isn’t finished,” Irving said in Miami that night. “And we’re just getting started.”

Turns out, he was right. The Mavericks — who spent most of February and March looking destined for the play-in tournament, a team that was barely better than a mediocre 26-23 after 49 games — figured things out just in time, and a trip to the NBA Finals is their reward.

Dallas will visit Boston in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night. It’s a matchup of the teams with the NBA’s two best records since Feb. 1; Boston has gone 39-9 in that span, Dallas 36-15. Boston also had the best record in the league before Feb. 1 (37-11), while Dallas was only 14th best in that stretch (26-22).

“It doesn’t happen a lot of times (where) you go from the lottery to the finals,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “But we truly believe that we had the pieces.”

A year ago, they didn’t. When this season started, they didn’t have all the pieces they needed, either. But since swinging trades for Daniel Gafford and P.J. Washington in February, the Mavericks have been one of the best teams in the league — and going 16-2 in one late stretch of the regular season only reinforced Irving’s belief that something good was happening.

“That’s the type of confidence that I felt the majority of this playoffs, just no matter what’s going on — in the beginning of the game, middle of the game, before the game — our words of affirmation and positivity go a long way,” Irving said.

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, center, celebrates with teammates after Game 5 of the Western Conference finals in the NBA basketball playoffs against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Thursday, May 30, 2024, in Minneapolis. The Mavericks won 124-103, taking the series 4-1 and moving on to the NBA Finals. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

In the current NBA playoff format, which goes back to 1984, Dallas is only the fifth team seeded No. 5 in its conference or lower to make the finals. Miami did it last year as a No. 8 seed, Miami did it again in 2020 as a No. 5 seed, New York did it in 1999 as a No. 8 seed and Houston did it in 1995 as a No. 6 seed. Of those teams, only the Rockets went on to win a title.

But this Dallas team has been playing as well as anybody.

The Mavericks are 11-1 in these playoffs when they score more than 100 points. They’ve won five in a row on the road during this postseason run, matching their longest such streak from the regular season. They have a player in Irving who has won the finals before, a coach in Kidd who won a title as a player — with Dallas, no less — and arguably the best player in this postseason in Luka Doncic, who is headed to the title series for the first time.

Irving was right. The Mavs were just getting started. And now, they have a chance for the perfect finish.

“I think we’ve got a great team,” Doncic said. “But most importantly, we’ve got great guys, some great guys on the team. From players to coaches, everybody on the team, we have great guys and that’s the most important thing. We stay together and we just play basketball.”