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Kyrie Irving kept the Mavericks afloat before sailing to victory against the Rockets

The star guard found his rhythm after a rough start, at the exact moment the Mavericks needed him.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Late in the third quarter against the Houston Rockets Tuesday night the Dallas Mavericks were drifting. After a back-and-forth first half that saw the Mavs lead by as much as 13 points, the home team coughed up their four-point halftime lead and were stagnating. The young and scrappy Rockets, who entered the night with the best rated defense in the league, were playing aggressive and created some separation as they neared the four quarter. And then Kyrie Irving asserted himself.

With 1:11 remaining in the third the Mavericks were down 84-75, after managing just four points in the three and a half minutes prior, with Houston going on a mini-run. First Irving worked his way into isolation on Jeff Green, drawing an off-ball foul that sent him to the line. The next possession he broke down Jalen Green’s perimeter defense for a nifty lay in through the trees. He drew a perimeter foul the following trip, and completed an insane falling three point play with 12 seconds left. In just 59 seconds Kyrie Irving managed nine points on four possessions. It didn’t regain them the lead, but it kept them in the game when it felt like it could slip from their grasp.

If you watched that final 90 seconds to the third you would not have been taken aback. In fact, you may not have even realized how efficiently Irving dominated. His two field goals, both drives to the basket, were jaw dropping but it didn’t feel that someone was changing the course of the game. But in the context of Irving’s night leading up to this it was impressive.

“I thought in the first half he had some great looks that just didn’t go down for him. We came right back to him to start the third, and he let us know that he was ready to go. He got us going offensively”, head coach Jason Kidd reflected after the game. Irving was ice cold in the first half Tuesday, going 2-of-11 from the floor for five points, 1-for-6 inside the arc. He went 1-of-2 from the field early in the third before subbing out. It wasn’t until this stretch to finish the third that Kyrie looked connected to the game. But it certainly was the launching point.

“Yeah, he can go off [at] anytime. There were a couple of insane layups, which isn’t insane for us because we see it all the time. But his play has been amazing, and his leadership has been amazing,” Luka Doncic stated post game. Irving attacked early in the fourth, a nice shimmy move to the baseline to draw another foul. He was suddenly the engine for the offense as the Mavericks clawed their way back, scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter to cap off a rough and tumble 27 points in the win.

It is an oft used idea that scorers in a rut need to find their way to the free throw line to get going. Kyrie has scored 23 or more points in all of the last five games, but Tuesday was a season high from the free throw line — he went 9-of-9 on freebies. For a player like Irving, who doesn’t attempt a high volume of free throws but has shot 90-percent or better from the line for five straight seasons, it can be an anchor to the rest of his scoring. Irving was 6-of-11 from the floor in the second half, with four baskets in the lane.

Doncic had a big night, scoring 41 points with nine rebounds and nine assists, joining Irving with zero turnovers — massive considering how aggressive the Rockets were with both. But for all of Luka’s impact on Tuesday, the turning point came in the waning moments of the third with Doncic resting and Irving finding a way to rhythm. That’s the value of having a player with Irving’s skillset on the team.