NBA Finals [600x400]
NBA Finals [600x400] (Credit: Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

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BOSTON -- With his Dallas Mavericks attempting to avoid elimination in the NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving feels the pressure to perform in a road arena that presents uniquely challenging circumstances for him.

After Sunday's practice in preparation for Game 5 on Monday, Irving discussed the villain treatment he has received at TD Garden since his decision to leave the Boston Celtics in free agency five years ago.

Irving struggled in the Mavs' two road losses to open these Finals, averaging 14.0 points on 35.1% shooting, providing plenty of ammunition for a fan base that considers him to be a public enemy.

"I mean, let's just call it what it is," Irving said. "When the fans are cheering, 'Kyrie sucks,' they feel like they have a psychological edge, and that's fair. Of course, if I'm not making shots or turning the ball over, that makes it even more of a pressing issue that they can stay on me for.

"I think in order to silence even the self-doubt, let alone the crowd doubt, but the self-doubt when you make or miss shots, that's just as important as making sure I'm leading the team the right way and being human through this experience, too, and telling them how I feel."

The Mavs' 122-84 rout to extend the series in Game 4 ended Irving's personal 13-game losing streak to the Celtics, a drought that included a sweep of his Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the 2022 Eastern Conference playoffs.

Before these Finals started, Irving expressed regret for how he reacted to Celtics fans during that 2022 series, specifically flashing his middle finger toward them on a couple of occasions. He had stepped on the eye of the leprechaun in the half-court logo after Brooklyn's Game 4 win in the 2021 East first, a series the Nets won in five games, further enraging a Boston fanbase that felt spurned by his free agency departure.

On Sunday, Irving said in hindsight that he should have shown more respect to the Celtics' history going back to when he was traded to Boston in the summer of 2017. He said he wished that he would have made an effort to establish relationships with some of the players from the Celtics' record-tying 17 NBA championship teams instead of expecting them to reach out to him.

"You have to show your respect here," Irving said. "I think that's what I struggled with initially, was figuring out how I'm going to be a great player here while winning championships and also leading a team and selflessly joining the Celtics' organization or the cult that they have here.

"That's what they expect you to do as a player. They expect you to seamlessly buy into the Celtics' pride, buy into everything Celtics. And if you don't, then you'll be outed.

"I'm one of the people that's on the outs (laughing). I'm perfectly fine with that, you know what I mean. I did it to myself. They don't welcome me with a warm embrace."

Irving performed well in the two Finals games in Dallas, averaging 28.0 points on 50% shooting in front of the friendly home crowd at the American Airlines Center.

Irving said the Mavs didn't get "as settled as we would have liked" in the first two games of the series at TD Garden. Asked about his approach to Game 5, given the unique circumstances in Boston, Irving said he would "change a few things up."

"Be prepared for what I'm getting myself into," Irving said. "Most importantly, not making this about me or getting into the energy with anyone else other than my teammates. That's about it."

The Mavs face a monumental challenge regardless of venue as they attempt to make NBA history by becoming the first of 157 teams to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a series.

"What I'm sharing with my teammates now is just enjoy the moment," said Irving, who hit the Game 7-winning shot in the 2016 Finals, when the Cleveland Cavaliers became the only team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the championship series. "We got a chance to accomplish one of our goals, which is to make it back to Boston. We have another goal in front of us, and that's to make it back to Dallas."

Dallas superstar Luka Doncic's stock line is that the Mavs will believe until the end. He pointed to the Mavs' Game 4 performance as proof that it isn't just lip service.

"I think the most important thing is to show that we believe," Doncic said Sunday. "I think we showed in Game 4. If not, if we wouldn't believe, we probably wouldn't have won that game.

"So I think obviously the talk is easy to talk about it, but then showing it is another thing. I think we showed it."