It didn’t look good halfway through the second quarter of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals last night.
The Boston Celtics were making virtually every open shot, and LeBron James picked up his fourth foul in the first half. Could the Cavs weather the last six minutes of the half without getting blown out?
Kyrie Irving made sure Cleveland stayed within shouting distance until James could return to the game after the half, scoring in a variety of ways to keep the wine and gold at a 10 point deficit at intermission.
In the third quarter, Irving went berserk, scoring 50% of his playoff career high 42 points in the period as the Cavaliers outscored Boston by 17 (40-23) to flip the game in Tyronn Lue’s team’s favor.
We have been critical of Irving from time to time for not passing enough, falling in love with his dribble, and not playing hard on defense.
In Game 3 Sunday night, we thought Irving forced the action a bit too much in the fourth quarter, playing hero ball because he was looking to take over, and the defense wouldn’t let them.
Last night, he knew his team needed a lift with James on the bench with four fouls, and hit some outside shots to get going, and after those went down, it opened up driving lanes for him.
Our criticism of Irving comes because he is so talented. He may have the best ball handling skills in the league, he’s a gifted shooter both from outside and around the basket, even though he gives up a lot of height near the hoop.
He doesn’t understand at times when he needs to take over, and when he needs to sit back and get his teammates going. Then again, he is just 25 years old. He has plenty of time to learn when and where and how to do it.
Irving shot an astounding 15 of 22 from the floor, including 4 of 7 from behind the three point line, in a game the Cavs absolutely had to have.
Can you imagine if the series went back to Boston even with two the remaining games in Beantown?
The wine and gold definitely needed to win this one, and with the best player in the game on the bench for the last six minutes of the half, Irving took control and didn’t let the Cavaliers get blown out.
With Irving going crazy, LeBron James got back in the groove, and by the end of the contest, his jump shot, which seemed to go AWOL in game three, returned. That should bode well for the fifth game tomorrow night.
And don’t discount Kevin Love’s contributions either. With Boston using two or three players to box out Tristan Thompson, Love picked up the slack with 17 rebounds to go along with 17 points.
In the playoffs, you win with defense, and the Cavs picked up their intensity in the second half too. James always talks about playing with desperation, and being down at the half seemed to get that edge back for Cleveland too.
But the night belonged to Kyrie Irving and his incredible array of shot making. When he combines that with the ability to make his teammates involved, Irving can join the list of elite NBA players.