A week ago, the hype around Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving was just that: hype. Sure, he was the NBA’s sixth leading scorer, had some big games on big stages and had gotten major praise from chief figures in the media. But he was lacking that signature moment that truly took his profile outside of Lake Erie. But today, we live in a different time. Irving has truly taken his profile outside of Cleveland for the first time. Looking at him today, he is truly a star – and here is why.
When I say that Irving had never had a real signature moment, I truly believe that. Sure, he’s had game winners was MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge last year, but none of that really made people outside of Cuyahoga County really look at Irving as a star. All it did was tell people that Irving is a talented player on a struggling team that has the potential to be great point guard. At best, people looked at him as the second best point guard in his own division behind Chicago’s Derrick Rose.
That is not the case anywhere. Last week, in his second appearance on All-Star weekend, Irving was a star. On Friday, in the Rising Stars game, he scored 32 points in 26 minutes of action. More importantly, Irving made what I thought was the highlight of the weekend. In the fourth quarter he was matched up one-on-one with the Pistons Brandon Knight on the wing. After a few dribbles, Irving went to work: he crossed over Knight so well that when he pulled up for a jumper, Knight just fell down. That play was replayed over and over again over the weekend. It’s gotten so big that when you Google search “Brandon Knight defense,” 95 percent of the results are about that play from All-Star weekend.
On Saturday, Irving won the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest in a field that included noted marksmen Stephan Curry, Steve Novak and Ryan Anderson. A career 41 percent shooter from behind the arc, Irving isn’t really known as a sharpshooter. At best, he was a dark horse in this competition. But he won. He beat out Novak in the East and then took out the Spurs Matt Bonner in the final. So, on Saturday, Irving was 2-for-2.
On Sunday, Irving didn’t explode like some thought he would, but he did have a good game. Scoring 15 points, Irving played alongside the NBA’s elite. While he didn’t get the start at the beginning of the game, Irving did get to start the second half alongside the likes of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Kevin Garnett. To be frank, that is where he belongs.
In a way, Irving starting the second half was the moment of the weekend. It wasn’t a particular play that will be part of his highlight reel for years to come, but it was a moment that showed the world that Irving belongs there.
Irving then saw his next actin on the court in a nationally televised game against Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Hornets. The game, which aired on ESPN, was the one Cavs game this year that the entire nation could watch. He started out slow and looked a little fatigued from his long weekend in Houston. The game itself wasn’t aesthetically appealing either, but then came the fourth quarter.
We’ve known for a long time now that Irving can close out games with the best of them. We saw that against Oklahoma City and Boston last year, and against Toronto just a few weeks ago. But his performance against New Orleans was something else.
In the fourth quarter, Irving scored 20 of his 35 points. Of those 20 points, Irving scored 11 in a row at one point and 18 of 20 at another. This all occurred in the last 7:08 of the game when Irving came back after a rest. To break that down, that’s 2.82 points per minute of scoring while he was on the floor. That’s absolutely incredible. Without that performance, the Cavs don’t win that game. They lose another game in a lost season that is destined to see the Cavaliers back in the lottery, even with Irving playing as well as he has.
Irving also made that game watchable. Without Irving, that game is between two bad basketball teams playing on national television. With Irving, and his fourth quarter magic, that game was watchable and exciting.
So what does this all mean? It means that Irving has become the new king of Cleveland basketball and that he is a star right now. Not only do the stats say that, but he is making the “wow” plays that only stars make. On All-Star weekend, the only play that rivaled Irving’s crossover was Kobe Bryant’s block on LeBron.
Some people think Irving is the best guard in the league right now, ahead of guys such as Chris Paul and Derrick Rose. I still would put Paul ahead of him, but that gap is not as big as it once was. Irving is the total package – scoring, passing, shooting, charisma and improving defense. He has it all and there really is no ceiling on how great he could be.
Kyrie is king. He is a star in the truest sense of the word. Embrace it, love it and enjoy it while it lasts. This is the Kyrie Irving era. It’s here and it’s only going to become more spectacular.