Before Sunday afternoon’s game against the Phoenix Suns would commence, Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving took to the floor to give the visiting team’s starting five an array of token “good luck” gestures. Five fist-bumps were doled out, two of them complimented with a quick hug. The hugs were reserved for fellow Duke University product Grant Hill, and hero and fellow point guard Steve Nash.
Little did Irving know, the entire Phoenix game-plan would focus on the first-overall pick; a team bound and determined to keep him out of the paint, denying the easy buckets on the defensive end, while using a bevy of screens and slashing when they had ball in hand. Following the 25-point loss, their sixth such an outcome in the last seven games, Irving would leave the Cavaliers locker room with the look of someone who was just involved in a hit-and-run. He provided a solid all-around game — a team-high 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting, adding in six rebounds, four assists and a steal — and Phoenix head coach Alvin Gentry could not have been more pleased.
“We did a good job on Kyrie [Irving],” said Gentry. “The guy ends up with 16 [points], six [rebounds] and four assists and we talk about what a good job we did on him. That’s a testament to the kind of player that he is because that is doing a good job on him. I thought we kept him out of the paint for the most part. That kid is a great player. He’s got a really, really, really bright future ahead of him.”
That’s a lot of “reallys.” One can also attribute the same amount of amplifiers on how much help Irving needs if this Cleveland Cavaliers team is going to become a powerhouse within their own division let alone one to be in the championship contention talks. Irving only had four assists in this game, as opposed to Nash who was essentially a distributor by dishing out 13 assists (compared to only two field goal attempts) in 29 minutes. However, where the Suns would slice and dice the Cavaliers defense with a barrage of pick-and-rolls leading to 22 essentially uncontested points from the hands of center Marcin Gortat, Cleveland spent the majority of the afternoon missing jump shots and fumbling passes.
Antawn Jamison was 1-of-8 from the floor, Anthony Parker was 1-of-5. Omri Casspi provided some life off of the bench, but it would by no means compensate for the multiple passes from Irving that would merely clang off of the hands of players like Samardo Samuels — Irving was attributed with five turnovers, three of which were his fault in the way that a quarterback is charged with an interception when his wide receiver attacks the ball with stone-laden digits.
Nash could only qualify Irving as a “terrific” player, both in the Cavs win in Phoenix as well as the fresh loss in Cleveland. The difference in this one was not letting the 20-year-old beat them single-handedly.
“I just tried to do the best I could to keep him in front of me,” said Nash. “Not a lot of people have success doing that. I just tried to do the best I could and hopefully our team defense was good and tonight it was.”
Irving, in turn, discussed how frustrating the last two weeks of play have been for he and his team. “We’re not together out there,” he stated, discussing team communication, being at the right spots on the floor during a given set and getting through screens rather than switching — the latter, something that head coach Byron Scott has long been against. There will be nights when the team’s shots are not falling; if the defense cannot get stops and keep the team withing striking distance, the issues merely compile.
Following the loss, Irving strapped on his backpack and took to the hallway outside of the locker room where his father Drederick Irving was waiting for his 20-year-old son. Providing ample symmetry for the evening, two hugs would be administered — one to his father and another to Byron Scott’s wife Anita, both individuals knowing that the Cavaliers’ point guard could use some chin-lifting. Irving would later send out a tweet to his 150,000 followers claiming that he has a “new attitude.”
Down the hall, in the locker room previously occupied by the Suns, the giant dry erase board was scrawled with the words “Great job!” On the one in the locker room Irving emerged from to meet his father, the words “11:00am practice.” .