After his final shot attempt caught the back of the iron rim and intentional fouls were rendered moot by the point differential, Cavaliers rookie point guard Kyrie Irving simultaneously fought the glow of the arena backboards as well as the foghorn of a buzzer which would signal the end of his first contest within the National Basketball Association.
An “okay” debut, if judged solely by Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott, Irving – the first first-round point guard to start for the Cavs in his NBA debut since Terrell Brandon did so 20 years earlier – recorded seven assists and one steal as compared to one turnover. Scoring, however, would not be the first-overall selection’s forte on this evening, converting only two of his 12 shot attempts; a floater off of the glass as an icebreaker early in the contest and a desperation three-point field goal in the waning seconds as his team looked to mend the gap between they and their opponents.
When the contest came to an end, Irving found the waiting arms of the man whom he displaced as a starting point guard, Ramon Sessions. The fourth-year player wasted zero time in consoling his teammate who had not exactly been used to being on the losing side of the ledger at any point prior to stepping foot in Cleveland, ensuring him that his shots will fall eventually while casually reminding him to not just dash into the locker room before the dust settled.
Irving stood by his locker, post-game, looking every bit of a 19-year old – a modest collared shirt, latex wristbands, nervous ticks and an impossible hairline. He would speak calm and collected and cliched, almost as if he was an early subscriber and vigilant reader of The NBA Way; mid-way through fielding a litany of questions from the surrounding media horde, Irving would get to a point where he repeatedly tugged on his left ear as if he were a swimmer suffering from some misplaced water. But the words that poured out spoke of a kid who was disappointed in his debut, both as a person and as a team, and knows he has to get better – it’s just tough in this instance when “the whole world is watching.”
In what could be a lasting narrative on nights where Irving doesn’t instantly remind the fickle of Christopher Emmanuel Paul, the decision to place the veteran Sessions with the second group – where he led the team in scoring with 18 points on 58.3 eFG – coupled with a Cavalier loss may raise questions surrounding the rookies readiness and the coach’s decision-making. It is also at these times where we have to remind ourselves that Paul’s debut provided the waiting basketball world with 13 points (only three field goals converted), four assists and four turnovers in seven more game minutes than were provided to Irving.
Those familiar with Byron Scott’s wish list when it comes to a successfully played basketball game, his team got to the free throw line early and often (28 attempts overall) and took care of the basketball, turning it over seven times while amassing just as many steals. Where Irving will have to focus his efforts this season, wherein we can work under the assumption that the player didn’t forget how to score along his plane ride from Durham to Cleveland, is in his defense at the next level. The Cavaliers, providing chilly reminders of last season, were frequently dismantled via the high pick-and-roll, allowing Toronto Raptors point guard Jose Calderon to dish out 11 assists, eight of which were converted at the rim, another less than 10 feet from it.
Surely, the team’s first-overall selection was not alone on this night when it came to finding more iron than net; Antawn Jamison and Omri Casspi combined to go 6-for-24. Also, Irving’s teammates Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson will have to do better defensively to ensure that the slashing opposition has to earn his points in these rolling situation. But just as the spotlight is shining brightly on the cornerstone of the Wine and Gold future, the play starts at the top of the key, a place where Irving will have to improve defensively if he plans on planting his flag as one of the league’s next great point guards.
Thankfully, for Irving and for Cavalier fans, the team’s rookie point guard has a solid support system in his father, coach Scott and Sessions – all of whom appear dedicated to get him on the quantitatively right track sooner than later. Just as Sessions told him, his shots will fall sooner than later. For Irving, who was steadfast in his “on to the next game” closer-mentality approach, let’s hope “sooner” is Wednesday in Detroit.