Kyrie Irving's Sunday performance was not the full Kyrie Irving experience. Irving played just 17 of a possible 48 minutes, finished with 12 points and took until the second quarter to get his first bucket. Irving, in fact, missed a layup 39 seconds into the game that he normally would have made with ease. It wouldn't be a stretch to characterize Irving's performance as uneven if encouraging.
Part of Irving's debut can be chalked up Irving playing his first game back and being on a minutes restriction. There was never going to Irving debuting by dropping a double-nickel and playing exactly like the player he was before being slowed by injuries in last year's playoff run. Coming off six and a half months off due to injury, Irving's debut was going to be, at best, a tease.
"Kind of been a long, long road, but finally getting out there with my teammates was a pleasure," Irving said per USA Today.
There will also be the inevitable questions of how Irving meshes with Kevin Love, who finished with just 10 points on four total shot attempts in 22 minutes. Love, though, never really got into a rhythm because of early foul trouble and when the two were on the floor together, the Cavs ran pick and rolls with Love screening for Irving. There will certainly be an adjustment, but nothing drastic seems to be necessary for the Cavs to keep Love more involve and give Irving the large roll his skills command he have. This may come slowly, however, as Irving may stay on a minutes restriction for a few more games.
A lot of what Irving did, though, is a good sign of things to come. He didn't lean on his very good isolation skills in order to get needed reps. He instead jumped right into a system that while still playing at one of the league's slowest paces, is moving the ball better this year. Irving, who finished with four assists against just one turnover, was a willing passer and just played within himself for his entire time on the floor. He even connected with teammates - like Jared Cunningham, for instance - who he had yet to play with yet in a game situation.
Irving also teased some of what makes him so special and why there's good reason to believe he's going to make the Cavs much better and more dangerous now that he's back. At different points in the game, Irving showcased the ball handling skills that make him unguardable at times. He got into the lane almost at will - a skill that could should become essential if and when Irving plays in lineups without LeBron James - and overall played like a rusty version of the player he was last year.
Irving's performance, of course, came against a woeful 76ers team. In the days, weeks and moths to come, Irving will face sterner tests than Marshall, Tony Wroten and T.J, McConnell. One looms later this week when the Cavs play Steph Curry and Warriors on Christmas Day. After that, Irving will square off against the likes of Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry and John Wall over the next month. He's going to pushed as he adjusts back to game speed and there will probably be a night where Irving struggles at least partially because he's still getting back in the flow of things.
But this was a good start for both Irving and the Cavs. He isn't quite back just yet, but if Sunday was any indication, he's close.