When we last got together, I was pretty hard on Tyler Zeller for his poor defensive rebounding. This week, given the performance and news last night, it’s a must to further break down All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving’s second 40-point performance of the season.
Kyrie scored 40 while taking just 24 shots as he willed the young Cavaliers to victory over the veteran Celtics, a playoff team if the dust settled today, 95-90. Kyrie dotted the shot chart with a mix of shots at the rim as well as mid-range jumpers and just one three pointer while leaving Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley in his wake.
Let’s start early in the Boston game. Irving had his highest-scoring quarter of the season with 19 points in the first quarter. Here, we take a look at a play that impresses for if nothing else the sheer number of defenders he passes as their attention is focused on him. Tristan Thompson begins this possession by trying to back down Kevin Garnett and juke him with a couple of pivots and fakes. When that doesn’t work, he kicks it out top to Irving to reset with 8 on the shot clock.
Rajon Rondo is heavily influencing Kyrie to go to his left and away from the middle of the floor. Tristan comes out to set a screen, but Kyrie doesn’t even wait for him to get set. Normally, that’s not a good thing, but here, it works out just fine.
The timing of it all and the overplay position Rondo was in forces a switch.
It’s fascinating to see Kyrie get through that small of a window as shown above. KG is in decent guarding position, but if Kyrie scoots by, the Celtics are in trouble. Rondo completely ignores Tristan beyond the arc and tries to get back for the steal.
He does get by Garnett, and hangs in the air for what seems like forever as he drifts by the contesting Brandon Bass for the up and under finish with his right and a little contact for good measure.
When Kyrie got hot from the perimeter, he used it to his advantage to get inside. Here, he gets a little help from Luke Walton in tricking Rondo. This play takes place off a sideline out of bounds play.
As you can see below, Kyrie and Rondo are the only two players on the far side of the court. Rondo makes the mistake of having Brandon Bass go up and tightly contest the pick and curl action from Walton and Gibson to get the ball inbounds.
With that adjustment, there’s no immediate backside help for Rondo. The ball goes into Walton at the top of the key, and Rondo is overplaying and respecting the perimeter game of Kyrie. The incredibly astute second-year point realizes this, takes two quick steps outside, plants, and burns Rondo as him and Walton make eye contact and Walton throws the lob pass.
Sullinger realizes the lob is on, but it’s too late, and the only thing he’ll get there in time to do is foul. Kyrie catches the oop and finishes high off the glass.
We now move to the fourth quarter, where Kyrie had 15 points in all, scoring the team’s last seven points and 13 of their last 17. This was probably the signature play of the night, and it began with a Kevin Garnett missed left elbow jumper. The rebound goes long, and former Buckeye Jared Sullinger gets elevation 1 and backtaps the ball over the top of Zeller and Thompson and well into the backcourt.
The race is on between Irving and Rondo. Rondo clearly looks like he’s getting to this ball if anyone does.
This is the exact moment where you see that Kyrie knows that he isn’t going to beat Rondo to this ball, so he lays back to a) not get burned up the court on defense and b) avoid getting the ball thrown off of him out of bounds for the extension of the Celtic possession.
Rondo leaps at the baseline, whirls around to save the ball, and commits the cardinal sin in doing so. Everyone knows you don’t save the ball under the other team’s basket (especially when you don’t have the momentum to chuck it down court and you’ve been racing one-on-one with another guy for it).
From here, it’s easy money as Rondo chucks it right to Irving, who is a couple strides away from Rondo still and is able to curtail the harshly-thrown ball. Kyrie lays it in, and the Cavaliers take a 3-point lead with 2 minutes to go.
Under a minute to play, we see the coast-to-coast Kyrie make an appearance. Gee quickly grabs the defensive rebound, hands off to Kyrie, and this is our scene as the Cavaliers’ possession begins.
It’s a 2-on-2 after Kyrie rockets past KG. Gee is ahead of the ball and Kyrie, and Avery Bradley and Paul Pierce are back for Boston.
Pierce comes out to defend Kyrie, and in this screen grab, we see Kyrie’s step-through as he picks up his dribble and shakes Pierce as Pierce’s momentum is taking him out towards Irving.
Bradley pinches down, and Irving splits them as he goes up for the shot.
Pierce is a step behind still, and Kyrie glides to the left side of the bucket.
Kyrie finishes, shooting it on the way down, with Pierce on his side, and Garnett trying to block the shot from behind. It gave the Cavaliers a 3-point lead with under a minute left. The degree of difficulty on this shot was so incredibly high. I’ll continue to state that this is the type of fast-paced offense the Cavaliers need to be encouraged to run more often.
Finally, on the next possession, Irving stamped this one in the book for the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers lined up in their common 1-4 set at the end of half/game scenarios with Kyrie out top eating the clock.
Thompson starts to flash high for a screen, but again, Kyrie goes opposite from where Tristan is flashing.
Sullinger is the only defender that is in between Kyrie and the basket as Irving slides by Rondo yet again. Sullinger is inside the circle at this point.
But, Jared moves quick and looks to get outside of the charge circle.
Contact is made as Sullinger’s left heel is awfully close to the half-circle. Irving takes the contact and never loses sight of the basket.
The one thing working against Sullinger (other than star power) is he met Irving’s contact and leaned into him a slight bit.
By the spirit of the charge rule, I would’ve called this an offensive foul. Instead of being a six-point game after Irving converted the and-one, it could’ve just as easily had been a 3-point game headed the other way.
After this game against the East’s starting point guard against a normally strong defensive unit, it was clear that Kyrie Irving had generated enough buzz and noteworthy performances to get the All-Star appointment. Here’s the near-spotless stat line to prove it.
40 points, 16-24 FG, 1-3 3PT, 7-7 FT, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 turnovers, 7-9 on shots at the rim, a true shooting percentage of 73.9%. In his last ten games, Irving has rose his game with 25.8 points per game, nearly 48% shooting from the field, and almost 42% from three point range. As for the argument of the top teams in the East demanding multiple All-Stars, see the Cavaliers every season but 2009 with the injury replacement appointment of Mo Williams for reference on how much that matters. Kyrie Irving’s a star, and the Eastern Conference coaches had no choice but to send him to Houston. Exhibits A-E above are just a small snippet of the mountain of evidence.
Until next week, the film room is closed!
I’m not sure we ever saw that much space between his feet and the ground at OSU!