Kyrie Irving is probably going to wake up and feel quite a bit of pain in the morning. In the midst of a flurry of drives, acrobatic lay-ups, and disrespectful three point field goals, Irving twisted his ankle. He’s had serious injuries in the past, and he’s had close calls. He rolled around in obvious discomfort before popping up, pumping his chest, and barking at the crowd to match his intensity. It was an impressive and loud Quicken Loans Arena, but no one was matching Irving on this night.
“I’m pretty sure when I get home my body will probably hate me, but the magnitude of the moment ... I wasn’t coming out.” - Kyrie— David Zavac (@DavidZavac) May 24, 2017
Said LeBron James, when asked of Irving’s performance: “As the stakes get higher and higher, his game gets higher and higher. He rose to the occasion. Tonight, he showed why he’s one of the best point guards in the league.”
Said Brad Stevens, who watched his team’s 10 point lead fail to expand with James in foul trouble, and then evaporate under the Irving onslaught in the second half: “We had really good athletes, quick guys, … he was able to get by us and make tough shots in the paint. I think it’s more of a tip your hat thing with ... tonight.”
That’s what this article is, a tip of the hat, to the man Tyronn Lue called perhaps the greatest one-on-one player the league has right now. But it’s about those undeniable skills, the counters, the shooting, the patience that Avery Bradley was left lamenting afterwards, being channeled into helping his team win games of the utmost importance. Irving isn’t announcing his presence on the stage at this point. That happened last June. No, this was a reminder that when he gets it going, sometimes all that is left to do for an opposing team is shake your head and go to the next possession. Trouble is, when Irving gets into his roll the possessions don’t stop.
The scenario: The Cavs down 10 with over six minutes left in the 1st half, LeBron James saddled with four personal fouls. The result 33 points on Kyrie’s next 16 shots, and a seven point Cavs lead going into the fourth quarter. He tallied a playoff career high 42 points overall on 22 shots, and added four assists to three turnovers. Two of those turnovers came in the first five minutes of the game.
“The kid is special,” said James. “He was just waiting for an opportunity to blossom.”
James was talking about Irving’s situation before his return from Miami, but he could have very easily been speaking about his game tonight. By the time Irving tweaked his ankle, James was about ready to bounce back from a game and a half of malaise. It was far from a complete game for LeBron, but he still tallied 34 points, six assists, and five rebounds.
In the midst of it all Kevin Love was doing all of the little things and spacing the floor. He finished with 17 points, 17 rebounds, and five assists. It was both a signature Kyrie Irving game, and a signature game for the ‘Big Three’. It was a physical game, and the Cavs are likely to be sore in the morning. They travel to Boston up 3-1, but they don’t get an extra day for the travel. Boston will feel like they owe their fans a solid performance.
The Cavs know, though, that the quickest way to get some rest is to wrap things up. The Warriors are waiting, and they’ll need it and more. This version of Kyrie Irving would be a heck of a start.