Every Cavs fan will remember the moment for the rest of their lives: Game 7 of the NBA Finals, all tied up, one minute left. It was an identical situation to one kids have played out in America’s driveways millions of times. Despite having the best player in the world at their disposal, the team chose 24-year-old Kyrie Irving to take the shot. He made it, and Cleveland’s world changed forever.
LeBron James is the Cavs’ best player. This postseason, he has re-established himself as the league’s best player, although maybe he shouldn’t have had to. He can drag a team to the Finals all by himself. But he likely will not be able to beat the Golden State Warriors all by himself. He tried once before, two years ago, and got halfway there. Now he’s two years older and the Warriors are one Kevin Durant better. LeBron can do almost anything, but he probably can’t do that. Not alone.
If the Cavs are going to defend their title, they’re going to need help from Irving once again.
Irving’s shot in Game 7 will be remembered as one of the most iconic shots in NBA history, and it may well end up being the defining moment of his career. It overshadowed, however, the brilliance Irving showed to get the Cavs to that point.
In Game 5, facing elimination, Irving poured in 41 points on 24 shots. That was a game in which LeBron also had 41, but it was Irving who carried the offense down the stretch. He scored 12 points in the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter, as the Cavs pushed their lead from six points to 13, and they never looked back.
So far in the playoffs this season, Irving hasn’t quite been up to that high standard. Against the Pacers, he shot just 42 percent from the floor and 22 percent on threes. Against the Raptors, his shooting from the floor dipped even further, although he did average 8.5 assists per game, a career high for a playoff series.
It would be wrong to say that Irving was bad, because he wasn’t. He just wasn’t quite brilliant, which is what he has shown he is capable of being, at least on offense. He can create his own shot from anywhere thanks to his handles, make impossible layup attempts look like high percentage shots, and he is usually a very reliable three-point shooter.
To win another title, he’ll likely have to find the form that he showed fairly consistently last June.
In the fourth quarter of Game 4 against Toronto yesterday, he showed that he can certainly still do it. He re-entered the game with eight minutes left, and the Cavs lead had been cut to two. Moments later, he began a stretch in which he scored 11 points in just over two minutes, as the Cavs expanded their lead to finish off the sweep.
That’s what he is capable of, and that’s the Kyrie Irving who will have to show up if the Cavs are going to reach the mountaintop once again.