There’s a reason that flexible scheduling has been implemented in the NBA (at least for ESPN and ABC). It’s for scenarios like this season, when a top pick in a heavily scrutinized draft class that played just 11 games in college flies under the radar. So much so that the TV big wigs choose to not showcase his team even once on national TV. Now, from Albuquerque to Tacoma to Hartford to Tallahassee, more than a few eyebrows have been raised following Kyrie Irving’s 34-point, near perfect shooting performance. The ESPN commercial says it all. “I think we found Kyrie Irving!” The only appropriate follow-up question is, “Yes, you did, but what took you so long?”
This article isn’t going to be all about my strong feelings that the small markets in all the major sports are grossly misrepresented (I haven’t seen playoff contenders Indiana or Philadelphia much on national television either). Instead, it should and will be about Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, who led their respective teams in scoring, as Kyrie’s Team Chuck topped Tristan’s Team Shaq in the modified version of the Rookie-Sophomore Game 146-133.
Let’s start with Irving, who started this game packed with young, athletic players full of potential at the point guard spot looking to get others involved. The first offensive possession of the game was an alley-oop from the top of the key to the Pacers’ Paul George. On a team with just him and John Wall at the point guard slot, I had a feeling Irving may be able to get big minutes and make a huge impact in this game. With just three minutes remaining, Irving had only a couple nice assists and one alley-oop slam from John Wall, but then he went to work. That’s when Irving drilled four three pointers and took it to the hoop for a layup. 14 points in a span of 2:18 for the Cavalier rookie as he pushed Team Chuck’s lead from 7 to 12 at the half. Irving went on to hit four more threes in the second half to finish a perfect 8-for-8 from behind the arc and 12-for-13 overall. Kyrie added 9 assists and 2 steals in his 27 minutes, running away with the MVP award.
Kyrie showed a bit of his personality on Friday night. With Blake Griffin mic’d up, Blake poked fun at Irving, asking why he was double teaming him in an All-Star game. The competitive and joking Irving said, “you’ll get your points Sunday”, referring to Blake’s appearance in the All Star Game Sunday night. At halftime, Kyrie, when interviewed by Craig Sager, joked that he didn’t know who Kenny Smith was, after Smith kept referring to Duke as “that school in Durham”. He also said his teammates “refused to pass me the ball” with a sly grin on his face. All of this is just a cross-section of Kyrie, the soft-spoken, sweet-shooting, quick-handle point guard at the cusp of being a star in this league.
Tristan had a nice game too for Team Shaq, leading the team in scoring with 20 points, finishing off 9 dunks on 10-of-11 shooting. Most of Thompson’s dunks were of the power variety, with nothing too flashy about them. His best was probably on an alley-oop from Bobcats’ point Kemba Walker in the first half. The game did have some interesting storylines. Shaq’s team had a quintet of point guards in Ricky Rubio, Jeremy Lin, Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, and Norris Cole. Chuck’s team had a serious lack of big men with just Demarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors, and Derrick Williams. The former CSU Viking and current Heat guard Cole had 18 points and 6 assists. Former Buckeye and current Sixer Evan Turner posted 16 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals.
Above it all, even though it was a track meet with defense absent that didn’t resemble any sort of natural flow, what stood out was the future of the Cavaliers shining on a national stage, hoping to do so when it counts real soon.
(Photo:Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)