April 21, 2014

On Kyrie Irving and the Comeback Kids

A three-ball from the top of the key. A cross-over move from the left elbow that found fellow rookie guard Brandon Knight wondering what the heck just happened as the ball fell through the nylon. And an Alonzo Gee steal turned into a 360-degree, over-the-shoulder, no-look pass back to the athletic wing for the unabated dunk.

The entire sequence took roughly one game minute, but it was just the momentum the Cleveland Cavaliers needed to extend a lead against the Detroit Pistons, a lead they would never relinquish thanks to consistent defensive efforts across the board coupled with timely conversions on the offensive end. A lead that would ultimately end in a one-point win at home — their second consecutive win by the narrowest of margins.

“I feed off the energy of my teammates and the crowd,” said Irving. “When you have the confidence of your teammates going down the stretch, it’s easier to make those plays.”

It was an Antawn Jamison three-pointer approximately two minutes earlier would be the bucket needed to cap the comeback. The Cavs trailing by 17 at one point in the contest, down double digits heading in to the fourth quarter, needed everything to fall their way. A relatively sloppy contest otherwise, it was Jamison (29 points in the first three periods) who would be credited with keeping the Wine and Gold in the game, only to have Irving and Gee finish the sandwich in the fourth.

Thirty combined points were delivered from the 19-year-old point guard and a kid who was floating about the NBDL just 15 months earlier. As he has in several other games this season, Irving was relatively shy with his shot, only taking a handful of attempts over the course of the first three quarters only to unleash the hounds once there were 12 minutes remaining. He did it from all angles; lay-ins — including the one described above as well as a beautiful conversion where the guard leapt from the right hash, changed hands in mid-air and dropped it in behind the rim with his left — three-pointers and free throws. After three quarters of otherwise uninspiring play, Kyrie Irving took advantage of every single fourth-quarter possession, “willing” the  Wine and Gold to the win.

“I just wanted to control the game the best I could,” said the Cavs’ top draft pick. “I tried to get open shots for my teammates. As many shots as I would’ve like to of gone in, it didn’t happen tonight, but going into the fourth, I took what the defense gave me and it worked out.”

Worked out it did. This young team won it’s fifth contest of the season after falling behind by double figuires. Irving, who is well beyond his years from a leadership standpoint, played the fourth quarter as if he was harnessing injured teammate Anderson Varejao. Wherein the Brazilian big man can keep things electric for 48 minutes, it appears that Irving has the ability to merely flip a switch and take over.

“Kyrie said he was gonna turn it up, and he did,” said Gee. “He turned it up. He picked it up for us, and we’re gonna follow him.”

It’s easy to say that the Cavaliers should not be winning these sort of contests due to draft position, similar to the Browns squeaking out a 6-3 barnburner against the Seattle Seahawks — coming out the victor merely reflects relative superiority. But had the Cavaliers not won in the matter in which it did, with key contributions from would-be integral members of this team’s future, it would signal warning signs that could not be rectified by adding another 19- or 20-year old ingredient into the pot. You can’t draft chemistry.

Irving taking this unit, with the help of Gee and a couple key defensive plays by Tristan Thompson (some that won’t show up in the box score, including forcing a would-be Ben Gordon game-winner to the baseline), on to his still-developing shoulders and carrying them to a win is a very, very good thing. Give a fist pump when an Irving three-ball finds the bottom. Sit back and smile when he subsequently makes the fourth-overall pick leave his ankles at the free throw line.

Accept the losses, but desire the wins. Even if they do have to come in the final seconds against one of the worst teams in the NBA.

(Photo via David Liam Kyle/Getty Images)

  • mgbode

    I like beating the Pistons.  They are also going to be a team on the rise with Knight, Stuckey and Monroe providing a solid corps.   Assuming they add one of the PFs in the upcoming draft (please don’t be Anthony Davis), then they will have a very solid foundation.

    So, let’s get it in their minds early that we are the big brother in this relationship and that they need to overcome the mental hurdle when we meet and not the other way around.

  • Eli

    Not to break open the whole “we should be losing” argument any further, but if you want to see what tanking seasons looks like and what it can do to a young team, check out the Wizards. Another lottery pick is certainly not going to fix that trainwreck.

  • Harv 21

    Proposed nickname: The Kloser

    (ugh, sounded better in my head than on the screen)

  • http://twitter.com/masonjarjar Mason Jar

    I would like to see an Irving/Cle, Knight/Det rivalry develop.  Good rivalries make for fun NBA viewing..

  • Harv 21

    Respected Antawn when he was with the Wizards but really ambivalent cheering all that awkward slop he’s throwing at the hoop to bail us out.  Like cheering World Free’s jacking from everywhere because you knew there’s no future there but couldn’t exactly ask him to feed Ben Poquette. Wonder if Kyrie feels like someone forced to play pick up with the bandy head-banded 65 year old because he’s got next.

    Look forward to another scorer next year. Just gets really ugly sometimes, like no one elase has any game.

  • Tim

    Kyrie = clutch… He has done it consistetly all year, he is without a doubt a franchise player

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Great game, I never thought the Cavs would come back.  Irving seemed tentative in the first 3 quarters and nobody was really playing well except for Jamison (but even he was missing tons of free throws).  Brandon Knight was really hitting his shots and Greg Monroe was having a field day against Erden and Hollins.  It was awesome watching Irving and Gee go into attack mode, but I thought TT was just as important in that comeback.  He completely shut down the easy points in the paint and rendered Monroe ineffective.  Fun win for the Cavs.

  • mgbode

    good point on TT vs. Monroe.   Can’t remember if it was you or someone else that I had the discussion with about fearing TT couldn’t guard Monroe.    At this point, I am gleefully surrending on that point and taking Monroe off the list.

  • Xxcootxx

    With Kyrie showing so much leadership in such a short time it’s clear to see that LeBron was NEVER a leader in his time here, he just expected others to pitch in. 

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Nice!  I forgot we had that discussion… it was only one game, but it’s good to know that I’m not always talking out of my and I was certainly happy with the result.

  • mgbode

    yes, I am very happy to be wrong on that one even if it was just a small sampling in one game.

  • Jaker

    Well said, I agree 100% with that rationale. However, I think its time we try and deal Jamison and Sessions (try to dump Hollins too, for what its worth) and start the chemistry that we’ll need w/o these guys around. The longer they stay around, the longer it will take to trust TT in the 4th. The longer they stay, the longer it takes to see if Manny Harris can be a player in the NBA. These wins mean nothing if theyre happening because of guys who will be gone next season, so why are they still here? Can we please just nip this now. If we trade them now, our draft stock will likely get better, we will see the Cavs that we are building around learn chemistry, and we will obtain assets to help in the future. If we wait to trade them the draft pick gets worse(turning a would be cornerstone into a role player is NOT what the Cavs can afford), the longer we must wait to see chemistry between players we are building around (TT, Harris and Samuels learn 0 chemistry on the bench) and the longer we muct wait to see the team start to build up.

    This is becoming very frustrating. I like to see them win, but not if it gains us nothing except assurance that Irving is good.

  • Tim

    The issue with trading Jamison: He is an expiring contract which we need… Unless we get someone pretty darn good for him, I prefer the cap space as we continue to rebuild.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Manny Harris was just brought in for depth he has no future with the Cavaliers.  He may stick around if Sessions gets dealt and Parker doesn’t play other then that I don’t see him belonging in the same sentence with Irving and Thompson.  Samardo Samuels has been a huge dissapointment.  I don’t know what happened to him.  I never thought Gee would be the one to improve and look to have a future I thought it would be Samuels. 

  • Jaker

    They may end up buying him out. He’s been so good to the franchise that they may let him sign with a contender because he’s been a good sport and helping out young players

  • Jaker

    As die-hard of Cleveland sports that I am, I have lived my entire life in north jersey, so I also watch and enjoy the Knicks. I know he’s proven nothing at the NBA, but neither did Jeremy Lin. Then Lin lit up the D league over a very small span(like Harris) and then was given his chance and surprise to EVERYONE(except my Dad, who claims he called it) he ends up being a quality player with tons of upside.

    In no way am I trying to say Manny will have a Jeremy Lin type impact, but I really really really want to at least see him get some time because what do we have to lose? Honestly, the worst thing that happens is we play him, he pulls a Marte and never does anything special. Then we would know what he’s able to do and maybe our draft pick got a little better. We just killed two birds with one stone.

    Best case scenario: he starts finding the bottom of the net and becomes a wingman to Kyrie and develops some chemistry. He’s young, he’s athletic and he’s cheap. I say let’s see what he’s got.

  • Tim

    That would be fine by me, but I am one of thoes crazy wierd sports fans that wants my team to try to win… But if he asks for it, fine.

  • Tim

    Manny Harris is NOT Jeremy Lin… Harris already started in the NBA last year, while Lin had not had nearly that chance.

    Too often fans think people like Manny Harris, Carlton Mitchel, Kelly Holcomb, etc. can magically become awesome if just given the chance. Not saying you do Jaker, but is a common theme among some fans. For 98% percent of the guys in the D-League and at the ends of benches, there is a reason they are there. No, on a bad team it does not hurt to find out. But its foolish to think it will happen.

  • redifrogger

     Tim – jaker himself said Manny Harris is not Jeremy Lin.  2 months ago you would have put Harris in same category as Lin. Journeymen with some upside. Who knows if Harris will develop into a servicable piece. Maybe not, but quite possibly he may. And since you said Holcomb, I’ll say Brady.

  • http://www.zfcomics.com dgriff13

    “You can’t draft chemistry” 
    Perfect. There’s no guarantee in the upcoming draft. Just like last year, we argued the other side of the point, when our first pick on the draft was, according to NBA pundits, not going to amount to much.
    WHUT NOW?

    so, why mess with what’s going well? Maybe we’re closer than we thought, maybe another #1 pick isn’t necessary, maybe that #1 pick will be a bust and our #10 pick will turn out to be exactly what we need.

    all I can say is the wins are AWESOME and the losses have an upside so they are easier to deal with. By far this season has been easier on the ol’ blood pressure than any other in the past 8 years.

  • Tim

    You say Brady and I list 5392 other players… I am just saying its foolish to be excited about Manny Harris, not saying don’t play him.

  • JeremyH

    This season has been easier than the past 8 years? You did say EIGHT years, right?  I’m pretty sure the Cavs have had some pretty easy-on-the-blood-pressure years semi-recently. We’ve only had one or two losing seasons (not including this one) in the past 8 years, so I really wish people would stop acting like they’ve sucked forever.

    Now the Browns on the other hand …

  • http://www.zfcomics.com dgriff13

    heh, no no, I didn’t mean that the last couple seasons with James here sucked… they were fun as hell.. but all the media fuss about him leaving and the playoffs and the excitement of possibly winning the whole thing ALSO upped the ol’ blood pressure. All my poker chips were in, you know? Trust me, I’d rather have a good team to get all worked up over, than an atrocious team. This year’s squad is pure potential and showing good signs.