Kyrie Irving did exactly what any other 20-year old All-Star would do after scoring 20 points in just seven minutes of fourth quarter play, leading his team to victory in front of a national television audience as well as 16,103 screaming fans — he checked the messages which awaited him on his smartphone. Sitting slouched in his locker, donning a crisp white shirt a pair of khakis and a blue blazer that says more banking executive that basketball-playing superstar, Irving allowed his teammates to get the media spotlight before he would take his turn.
The hardware hangs proudly. All that was missing was a mahogany desk and a name plate next to potted plant and bevy of unused fountain pens.
The Cavaliers point guard had a bit of a slow start on this very night. Prior to the festivities, he said that he was still fatigued from a weekend which had since been dubbed his “coming out party.” His recent stretch of play had forced the national networks to take note; ESPN ushered their broadcasting trucks in to Cleveland to help spread the word of Irving. The pressure was on, but in typical Kyrie fashion, the end result was nothing but diamonds.
With his team in need, Kyrie the distributor turned into Kyrie the destroyer. Seven assists were already under his name within the box score, but it would be the fourth quarter — where else? — where Irving who quickly turned a “15” in the scoring column into a “35” by taking over the team’s contest against the New Orleans Hornets. He checked in at the seven-minute mark with his team down four points and would be at the free throw line 20 seconds later. Then he casually dropped a floater from six feet out. Then another free throw. A reverse lay-in. A step-back jumper from 18 feet away. A roof-rasing three-pointer. A New Orleans timeout.
In a whirlwind, the Cavaliers found themselves up five points, the Hornets not having known what just hit them Quicken Loans Arean was reveling in it all. At one point, Irving would score 11 straight Cavalier points and 18 of 20, split only by a pair of Wayne Ellington free throws. During the ensuing play following the Hornets timeout, Irving would corral a Roger Mason miss — fighting off teammate Dion Waiters — and would take the ball coast-to-coast, splitting three members of the would-be defense, destroying their wills with the up-and-over move that has become oh-so lethal, and laying in an easy one-footer. Not long thereafter, the 6-foot-3-inch Irving would take a charge from 7-foot Robin Lopez, giving the center his sixth foul.
It is safe to estimate that was not the sequence that was drawn up on the Hornets sideline. That said, even Monty Williams did not see this coming. Much to Williams’ detriment, Byron Scott did.
“You can see it coming,” said Scott of Irving’s fourth quarters. “He gets a little bit of a gleam in his eye. He hits one or two shots and just kind of gets going. You can see in the fourth quarter that he was really aggressive. I thought he did a great job of just getting himself some space, getting to the basket and finishing. He just kind of put us on his back.”
Despite all of his work, all of heroics from every spot on the floor, once Irving was given his turn in front of the cameras and voice recorders, he would call this one a “team win.” Sure, Waiters had an efficient 16 points. Tristan Thompson was a point shy of yet another double-double. Tyler Zeller and CJ Miles both went 5-for-7 from the floor to provide some relief. But it was this Cavaliers team who let a double-digit lead evaporate into a four-point defecit before Irving was given the look from head coach Byron Scott where he then swapped his warm-up t-shirt for an invisible cape and took over yet again.
Following the game, Irving offered little in terms of captivating soundbites or headline-ready quips. He spoke softly of his teammates’ trust and the confidence the coaching staff has in his abilities. He would crack a smile when discussing the charge as he can count how many he’s taken as an NBA player on one hand. Just like the three-point contest several nights earlier, Irving’s goal was just to hit shots — “The coaches told me to just to be aggressive, especially in the fourth quarter when it’s a close game like it was. Luckily a couple of shots went in for me.”
This year’s first-overall selection in power forward Anthony Davis was rendered invisible by last year’s. It was Irving, once again, who made one of the league’s preeminent shot-blockers a mere blip on the radar of his lay-in theatrics — a player with a 7-foot-8-inch wingspan turned into a windmill on a miniature golf course.
“Our bench came in the fourth quarter and did a tremendous job of holding the lead. We just came in and finished it, said Irving.”
We. The kid who scored 20 of his team’s 37 fourth-quarter points, all done from various spots on the floor against mutliple opponents, said that the team was responsible for the victory. The same team that was relatively lethargic through the first three quarters, failing to pull away from the injury-riddled and extremely young Hornets during multiple stretches of play. On the court, Irving went from Bruce Wayne to Batman in a matter of seconds. He went from tired and fatigued All-Star to an adrenaline-fueled, flexing while his teammates hung from him in excitement in a matter of minutes. And from Cleveland’s object of affection to a national stage in the matter of a night.
But after it was all said and done, Irving took it all in stride. This whole “Mr. Fourth Quarter” narrative is becoming old hat — it’s more of a surprise when the 20-year old does not provide heroics and highlights. If the basketball court is his building, the locker room is undoubtedly his office. While he had quietly been unhappy with the lack of national attention his team was getting, dedicating his All-Star weekend to the Cavaliers and the city of Cleveland, Irving didn’t morph into a different player simply because the spotlight was shining. He did what has been expected of him through his 80-plus games with the Cavaliers, and then shrugged it off as it was just another day at work.
While the other party of Irving’s post-game correspondence was unknown, the New Orleans Hornets were on the receiving end of the point guard’s latest composition. The rest of the NBA was carbon copied. Irving has just wrapped up his 94th game as a professional basketball player. Things are just getting started.
(Photo via Scott Sargent/WFNY)