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Luka Doncic has been criticized in the past for his defense, so too has Kyrie Irving. Both players are amongst the most gifted offensive players the NBA has ever seen, but both have a tendency to be a liability on the other end of the floor. We've seen it each of the past two times Doncic has played against the Clippers in the playoffs, getting relentlessly hunted on defense -- and rightfully so -- as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George crossed up, side-stepped and drove right past the Mavericks superstar. Irving has similarly been targeted on defense throughout his career primarily because of his size, getting thrown into switches and being forced to guard guys bigger than his stature. 

But after an embarrassing opening-series game against the Clippers on Sunday in which L.A.'s lead ballooned to 29 points, the Mavericks responded with a 96-93 win in Game 2. Doncic and Irving starred not just on offense -- the duo combined to score 55 points -- but on defense as well. 

When asked after the game about what he thinks about being targeted on defense, Doncic said it gets him going to put in more effort on that end of the floor. 

"That's fine, I accept it," Doncic said. "It gets me going on the defensive end, too, so if they want to attack me that's fine. I think I played good defense today, so I just have to stay locked in."

In Game 2, no other Mavericks player defended more shots than Doncic, as the Clippers' game plan was to force him to defend. But while it's worked in the past times these two teams have faced each other in the playoffs, Doncic showed the strides he's made on that end of the floor. L.A. went just 6 of 24 from the floor (25%) when Doncic was the primary defender and 2 of 9 from 3-point range. And this wasn't against role players, either. All three of Leonard, George and James Harden called for screens to get Doncic switched on them, and while it would usually result in either an easy shot attempt or a trip to the free-throw line, Doncic actually defended at a high level.

Like this possession late in the fourth quarter, when Leonard called for the switch to get Doncic on an island and force him to defend in space, Doncic moved his feet well and used his size and strength to not let Leonard overpower him. He didn't bite on a pump fake, which likely would've sent Leonard to the free-throw line. Instead, Leonard settled for a difficult shot, airballed it, and eventually, the Mavericks secured the rebound. 

A couple of possessions later, George decided it was his turn to force Doncic to defend. Once again, Doncic moved his feet, stayed in front of George, and had a really good closeout on his 3-point attempt, which just hit the front of the rim.

"I think his defense has been great this whole series," Kidd said after Tuesday night's win. "Understanding that we know that they're going to put him in every pick and roll. A couple of years ago we saw this, and he understands that we had to tell him to participate. But I think he's participating at a high level on both ends. We need him on the offensive end, but we also need him on the defensive end. And he's been able to do that here in the first two games."

But it's not just Doncic who participated on defense; so too was Irving. The All-Star guard finished the game with three steals and did his best to bother Harden when he guarded him. Irving deflected passes, saved loose balls, and was active on defense. On two of those steals, he played it perfectly. On the first one, as George tried to back him down a bit, Irving made a smart move to get on his hip and then poke the ball from behind, leading to a turnover.

On the second, he read a pass from Ivica Zubac to Harden and just knocked the ball out of Harden's hand, which led to an easy fastbreak dunk for Irving on the other end.

The Mavericks played tremendous team defense on the Clippers, not allowing any easy looks in the paint, and brought more physicality to the game than they did in Game 1. But that effort starts with Doncic and Irving. When your two star players are committed on defense, it spreads to everyone else, which is something Kidd alluded to after the game, specifically about Doncic.

"I think we all know when he's playing at that level [on defense], they have to step up, too," Kidd said. "They understand the responsibility of their leader, and when he's going to play defense and participate, they have to be able to do the same thing."

Doncic and Irving both made it a point to bring the intensity on defense, but one game isn't enough. The Mavericks did their job in evening up the series before it goes back to Dallas for the next two games, but if the Mavs want to finally get past the Clippers, they'll need their star players to replicate the effort in Game 2 on defense over the rest of the series. We know they're capable after Tuesday night's game, now it's just a matter of putting in that effort consistently.