Over the last few weeks of the regular season, the Cleveland Cavaliers had problems playing consistently, even within games.
They also seemed to play better without Kyrie Irving in the game.
He monopolized the ball, endlessly dribbling, and hoisting bad shots when he couldn’t find a way to the basket and the shot clock was running down.
The biggest problem though was his shooting. His marksmanship from three point range had dropped 10% from a year ago. He was prone to games where he was shooting more than 20 times per game and barely get over 20 points.
We thought if Irving was on your team in a pickup game, he wouldn’t be much fun to play with.
However, he seemed to change all of that once the playoffs started.
With the Cavs on the brink of a first round sweep of the Detroit Pistons, Irving’s game has returned to where it used to be. In fact, Friday night, he may have played his best of the season.
He was patient, yet aggressive if that is possible.
He looked to score early in the possession, and if something wasn’t there, he didn’t continue to dribble, he moved the ball and got it back.
And he hit the dagger shot with less than a second left on the 24 second shot clock with a corner three.
The former first overall pick is hitting 52% of his shots behind the arc in the series, and is making 46.8% of his two point shots as well. His effective field goal percentage 56.5%.
He still isn’t much of a playmaker, ranking third on the team in assists (behind LeBron James and his backup at the point, Matthew Dellavedova), but he’s only had four turnovers.
And after all of the angst about how the “Big Three” doesn’t fit well, and doesn’t play well together, all three of them are averaging over 20 points per game: Irving at 26.3, James (23.0), and Kevin Love (21.3).
Both Irving and Love have also played much better defense in these games vs. Detroit. Love was put in a couple of one-on-one situations with Piston point guard Reggie Jackson late in game one, and forced a couple of bad shots.
Irving has held Jackson to 45.2% shooting from the floor, and he has taken just three free throws in the series, obviously the forays into the lane are being minimized.
Now, we understand the Pistons are the 8th seed, and obviously will be the weakest opponent the Cavs will play in the playoffs. It only gets tougher as you move on.
But as we have said all year long, the wine and gold’s primary opponent all year has been themselves, and in judging them based on how they have played since the post-season has begun, they have stepped up the quality of basketball.
The Cavs still need to continue to improve defensively, particularly in the first half of games. Tyronn Lue has done a great job of making adjustments at halftime, because the defense has clamped down in the second half.
As the playoffs go on, you cannot have a poor first half defensively because you might go into the locker room down double digits instead of down five, like in game one in Cleveland.
But the Cleveland Cavaliers appear to be in playoff mode, and it helps that Kyrie Irving has stepped his game up.
There were many in town concerned about his play over the last two months.