“His handle seems loose, his ability to take over the game late has been neutralized, and his attitude has flat-out sucked. I saw one play where he didn’t get a foul call, looked at the official, and then jogged half-heartedly back down the court as the Bobcats scored. THAT is the kind of crap that is unacceptable. You want to be a star, a max player? Act like it!”
That’s part of my rant about Kyrie Irving from Friday night’s debacle at home. Never have I felt that a team needed a win so badly in the early part of the season, but that’s how I felt last night. The Cavaliers were pretty predictably mediocre in the early going of this game, and then it escalated to flatout bad halfway through the second quarter as the Cavaliers trailed 40-25 at one point to the Wizards. But, somehow, someway, in the nation’s capital, the Cavaliers crawled back, forced overtime, and then won it in the extra session on the back of Kyrie Irving as he tied his career-high 41 points for the second time in the Cavaliers’ 103-96 win over the Wizards. How did they do it? Kyrie ACTED like he wanted to be that star player.
How did the Cavaliers crawl out of that 15-point hole against the Wizards? Well, in a seven minute span to close the half, Kyrie scored 15 of his 17 first half points. How did he do it after being shutdown so much recently? Give credit to Mike Brown, who took Kyrie Irving off the ball with Jarrett Jack taking over those duties. Now, this isn’t a new concept in the young season. We saw this experimented with in the preseason and in games where the two operated in a “I’ll take it this time/you take it next time” type way much like Dion and Kyrie did last year. But, what we saw this time was that Irving worked relentlessly to get the ball back without it in his hands. Instead of knowing he had the ball and could jack up a shot any time that he wanted, it forced Irving to get open. Instead of one guy dribbling and AT LEAST three guys standing around in the post or in the corner, it made the defense stay active for 24 seconds. It’s the kind of thing we’ve been screaming for collectively as a blogosphere for Dion Waiters, C.J. Miles, and others to do, but instead, it was the Cavalier point who started the movement. Brown added this about his offense, “The drive and kick game was there. They got into the paint, and they didn’t just throw the ball up. They kicked it to guys with their feet setup to shoot open threes.” The Cavaliers were 10-for-21 beyond the arc.
The Cavalier All-Star also started another movement, a leadership movement. Post-game Mike Brown stopped reporters before they could start blurting out questions and made it a point to highlight and acknowledge Kyrie’s leadership in this game, “Kyrie was terrific in the huddles. He showed some true leadership throughout the course of the game. If he had a microphone on in the huddle, everybody would appreciate the way he kept everyone in it mentally.” Brown went on to say that Kyrie kept saying things such as “need to get a stop”, “we’re not out of this”, and the like. There couldn’t be a more encouraging development outside of the Cavaliers winning the game if you let me hand-pick one. Brown also re-iterated the long-held knowledge that players can tune coaches out and sometimes they need to hear the message from other players for it to sink in. I also saw Tristan emphatically gesture at his teammates in a few of those final huddles, and it’s a trait I’ve seen from Thompson several other times from the middle of last season on. Whereas Kyrie may not always be a vocal guy that most people would like their best player to be all the time, I think Tristan has the personality to be that leader. Thompson posted a strong game of his own with his sixth double-double in a 15 point, 12 rebound effort that included a key offensive putback slam with 1:18 remaining in the fourth to give the Cavs the lead. So, your best player doesn’t have to be your leader, but it’s a positive when they are.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing in the late game scenarios, though. Irving turned the ball over twice in the game’s final minute (and six times overall), including on the final possession with the game tied as he made his move to the basket. Kyrie’s handle is still WAY too loose. I don’t know what the solution is in end-game situations like that where it’s tough to give up the ball and get it back. Nevertheless, Irving figured something out in the extra session. Irving scored 9 of the team’s 13 points in OT, including a three-pointer with three minutes remaining to put them ahead by two possessions. Irving was in total command, faking a corner three to step in and drill a mid-range J, getting to the line where he was a perfect 9-for-9, and showing more effort on the defensive end of the floor. Irving’s 41 points came on 28 shots, and he added 4 boards and 5 assists.
Mike Brown’s admittedly still searching for lineups that he likes. He may have found one with Matthew Dellavedova. With Dion Waiters mysteriously missing his second straight game, Brown called upon Dellavedova and liked the way that he stayed on Bradley Beal defensively and acted as a catalyst on the offensive end. What ensured was Delly playing nearly the entire second half and overtime period. His stats won’t pop out in the box score (1-for-5, 2 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals in 31 minutes), but there was no doubt in coach or star player’s mind that Delly was key to the victory. “Matthew Dellavedova, my Austratlian brother, big shots, big credit to him. He comes to work every single day, going against me and Jack. He’s ready, and coach trusts him. He’s been a leader on the college level,” Irving said in his post-game interview. Dellavedova was the one who ran up the court, identified Beal guarding Kyrie, and absolutely crushed him with a solidly set pick, allowing Irving to swish the left wing trey in OT. Brown added, “We just felt like we wanted to throw him out there. He’s a tough son of a gun. He does what he does. Offensively, he’s just a ball mover. I’ve never seen a guy go 1-for-5 from the field and impact the game the way he did. Delly’s performance on both ends of the floor, I’m speechless.”
There’s many other things to mention about this game. Earl Clark played a lot of minutes at the power forward spot without any practice there. Brown identified earlier in the season that he’d be exclusively a small forward. Clark, however, continued his hot-shooting weekend with 11 points and 3-of-4 from three point range. Andrew Bynum returned, but looked like a guy who was away all week, shooting just 2-for-8 with 6 points and 3 rebounds in 21 minutes. The Cavaliers went with a three point guard lineup for the last quarter and overtime in Irving, Jack, and Delly. Jack went to the basket and scored when he should’ve just dribbled out the clock in overtime, and Bradley Beal took exception to it. The Cavaliers made 21-of-22 foul shots.
There were a lot of great signs in this game, though it isn’t a cure-all for what ails the Cavs. At 4-7 now, they’ll have three days off to get in some much-needed practice before they play these same Wizards on Wednesday night in the Q. Hopefully, they’ll be whole again with their starting shooting guard back in action.
(Photo: Alex Brandon/AP)