Duke in the NBA: Irving and Tatum shine in the second round of the NBA playoffs

Kyrie Irving glides past defenders for a layup
Kyrie Irving glides past defenders for a layup

With the second round of the NBA playoffs well under way, a few former Duke men’s basketball stars are in the midst of potential championship runs. The Blue Zone breaks down the recent performances of several Blue Devil alums:

Kyrie Irving

In the wake of an impressive first round performance against the Los Angeles Clippers, resulting in a 4-2 Dallas Mavericks series victory, Kyrie Irving is propelling the Mavericks to serious title contenders. Irving has averaged an impressive 23.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game so far this postseason. The Duke alum also leads his team in steals, with a postseason average of 1.8 per game.

With a narrow 105-101 victory Saturday, Dallas took an important 2-1 lead over the first-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, as the former Blue Devil racked up 22 points and seven assists. The tandem of Irving and fellow superstar Luka Doncic has proven to be a matchup nightmare for even some of the best teams in the NBA. Having won two games in a row, and with momentum firmly on their side, Irving and Doncic will look to expand the Mavericks’ series lead when they host the Thunder for Game 4 Monday.  

Jayson Tatum

The Boston Celtics entered the second round of the playoffs after dominating the Miami Heat four games to one. Then, having surprisingly dropped Game 2 at home to the Cavaliers, the Celtics bounced back Saturday with a resounding 106-93 win in Cleveland. Jayson Tatum has faced substantial criticism during the playoffs for not replicating his play from the regular season, even during Boston’s victories. Whereas Tatum averaged 26.9 points on 47.1% shooting during the regular season, in the postseason he has only mustered 23.1 points per game on an inefficient 41.3% clip.

However, during Saturday’s defeat of the Cavaliers, Tatum firmly silenced his critics. The Duke alum scored a postseason-high 33 points while racking up 13 rebounds. Tatum also recently etched his name in Celtics history: The five-time All-Star surged to second on the list for most points by a Celtic through their first 100 playoff games, trailing only Hall of Famer Larry Bird. He also joined Bird and LeBron James as the only NBA players with at least 2,300 points, 750 rebounds, and 450 assists through their first 100 playoff games. 

Dereck Lively II

Just one year after leaving the Blue Devil ranks, Dereck Lively II is starring on one of the biggest stages in professional basketball. The former Duke center missed the last eight games of the regular season for Dallas after spraining his knee against the Houston Rockets on March 31. The athletic rookie came back just in time for the playoffs and has been a big piece of the Mavericks’ run, averaging 20.2 minutes, 7.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. 

During Saturday’s game against Oklahoma City, Thunder coach Mark Daigneault opted to intentionally foul Lively during the late stretch of the game, hoping to capitalize on the former Blue Devil’s struggles from the free-throw line. Lively responded by promptly knocking down eight of 12 free throws, many of which came in the final minutes of Dallas’ victory. If Lively continues to excel under pressure, he may earn an even bigger role for one of the NBA’s biggest championship contenders. 


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