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Kyrie Irving saved the Cleveland Cavaliers in more ways than one

The oft-misunderstood member of the Big Three was also the most underrated.

2017 NBA Finals - Cleveland Cavaliers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

As part of Secret Base’s look at the Cavs’ 2016 title win, we’ll be writing about the chapters in different ways. First up: Some words on Kyrie Irving.

If I were to ask fans about Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers, you’d probably hear quite a few groans and jeers thrown his way. There is some validity to why that’s the case - things between Irving and the organization didn’t end on the best of terms when he was traded to the Boston Celtics.

You’d also hear plenty about The Shot, where Irving lulled Steph Curry into a false sense of security on a switch and drained a three-pointer that ultimately was the difference in Cleveland winning the 2016 NBA Finals. Irving’s shot was the reason the Cavs won their first title in their 46 years of existence and the first championship for the city of Cleveland since 1964.

Irving saved the Cavs’ bacon that night. But, it isn’t the first time he’s saved the franchise from drowning. That happened during his rookie season.

For context, the Cavs were bad the year before they drafted Irving first overall in the 2011 NBA Draft. Things were so dire Luke Harangody, Samardo Samuels, Semih Erden and Ryan Hollins played meaningful minutes for them. They were so bad they posted a then-record 26 game losing streak and only snapped it after squeaking by the hapless Los Angeles Clippers 126-119 in overtime. Antawn Jamison led Cleveland with 35 points and J.J. Hickson dropped 27. With that win, the Cavs improved to 9-45.

Cleveland would go on to finish the season 19-63. Clearly, things were suboptimal but they did get better when Baron Davis arrived. In his 15 games with the team, Davis averaged 13.9 points, 6.1 assists and was key in upsetting LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Davis’s arrival also was a key part in the Cavs acquiring their eventual savior in Kyrie Irving as well.

When the Clippers sent Davis to the Cavs, they also included their unprotected 2011 first round pick. After Los Angeles failed to make the playoffs, Cleveland had a second draft pick in the draft lottery. Much like Irving, that Clippers pick ended up being magic for the Cavs. Despite having a 2.8% chance of being first-overall, the selection from Los Angeles jumped all the way up to one and the Cavs found a way to pivot from James’s departure in Kyrie Irving.

When Irving first suited up for Cleveland, you felt a spark. Every time he was on the floor, you could feel something. The way he moved with the ball in his hand made him look like a savant on the floor. Every dribble move he did to break down his opponents had a purpose. And the touch of English on every shot when attacking the basket made every Cavs game, no matter how bad the loss, worth the price of admission. No, he wasn’t LeBron James. No one ever will be. He was Kyrie Irving and he was what helped lead the Cavs back to relevancy after James left them in ruins.

That’s how Irving saved the Cavs way before his heroics in 2016. In the wake of LeBron James taking his talents to South Beach, Irving gave Cleveland fans something to latch onto after things seemed their darkest. So that’s why Irving taking that shot against Golden State to win the championship is more special than you think. If it wasn’t for him, the Cavs wouldn’t be in the position to remain relevant without LeBron let alone win a championship. Kyrie Irving has saved the Cavs in more ways than one and for that fans should be forever thankful.