Dennis Smith Jr. won’t back down.
The rookie has been challenged by stingy veterans before, but this time Smith Jr. was the one throwing down the gauntlet when he confronted Boston Celtics’ point guard Kyrie Irving.
Things got going late in the first quarter when the Dallas Mavericks’ point guard drove hard down the right side of the lane. On his way up to the hoop, Irving gave him a bump and a hand to the face. In the aftermath, the two got tangled up near the front of the basket and Irving throws what appears to be a very subtle elbow.
Smith Jr. then got in the face of Boston’s best player and let him know that he was none too pleased about either situation.
Both players had to be separated by their respective teams, as well as officials. After the confrontation, Irving and Smith Jr. were both given technical fouls.
After the Celtics 97-90 win over the Mavericks, Irving showed no ill-will, and told reporters that he’s long been aware of Smith Jr.’s talent.
“I'm just an avid YouTube watcher, an avid studier of people's games,” Irving said. “So I've been watching him since he was in high school, when he was doing windmills on his AAU team in North Carolina. I've been studying for a while. And to play against him now as a 25-year-old man is awesome."
Smith Jr. had a rough night on the offensive end of the floor, making four of 16 shots from the field, with just 12 points and six rebounds.
Irving, who is having an MVP-caliber season, really gave the Mavericks’ rookie an education when he was on defense. Once again, the driver of the Celtics’ offense produced another clutch fourth quarter, scoring seven of his game-high 23 points in the last 4 minutes of play.
Earlier in the season, Irving dropped a season-high 47 points on the Rick Carlisle’s bunch, 10 of which came in overtime, as the Celtics erased a 20-point deficit for a 110-102 win at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Irving also knows situations like these are just part of the game, especially for Smith.
“I've had the unique opportunity to play well against some of the best point guards and struggle against them as well,” Irving said. “They'll use some veteran savvy in order to kind of take you out of your game. You just learn from that. The mix-ups in the games, that's always part of it. People bumping, trying to prove something, that's always fun.”
Peter Dawson: 817-390-7657