Maybe it was the bruised index finger on Kyrie Irving’s left hand that threw off the equilibrium of his game against Dallas Saturday night. Maybe it was the four-game losing streak his Cleveland Cavaliers already were riding and an urgency to do something – too much of something – that can grip young, talented players.
Whatever it was, it wound up ugly and rare: A performance in which Irving scored 26 points but accounted for exactly zero rebounds and zero assists in the home loss to Dallas.
Look, the Cavaliers’ main problem – as it’s been all season – was defense; Dallas shot 51.4 percent, including 10-of-23 from the arc, and Cleveland ranks 29th in defensive rating (109.5).
And as Irving noted afterward, “I was still finding the open man, but sometimes the shots just don’t fall.” His Cavs teammates shot a combined 33.3% (25-of-75), which made his 11-of-21 blistering by comparison.
Then there was the finger bruise, as reported by Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:
Irving had the rare stat line of 26 points, no rebounds and no assists. He said it was the first time in his life he didn’t have an assist.
The Cavs have typically struggled at the start of the fourth quarter when Irving is resting, but he was available for the fourth Saturday, since he injured his left index finger and spent most of the third quarter getting it examined.
X-rays were negative and Irving returned with the finger taped, but it affected him in the fourth quarter.
“I wasn’t feeling comfortable putting the ball in my left hand,” he said. “Attacking the rim, I only had one hand, so I was trying to force shots over Chris Kaman. It definitely affected me, but it still doesn’t defeat the fact we need to get stops on the defensive end.”
Nor does it defeat the idea that someone with a bum finger (even on his preferred non-shooting hand) might have been better off distributing rather than forcing. Cleveland’s non-Irving participants in the fourth quarter shot 5-for-12. The whole team had just two assists in that period.
For perspective’s sake, Irving’s Mavericks counterpart Darren Collison shot 5-of-8 but had a game-high eight assists. Irving is the better player by far overall, but not on this night, not in this game.
For even more perspective, there’s this: Forget the rebounds – that’s not really his job – and forget all the shooting guards that have posted stats lines like this one. The last legit point guard who took at least 21 field-goal attempts in an NBA game (regular season or playoff) and passed for no assists whatsoever was Houston’s Steve Francis. More than 10 years ago. That’s not the sort of company Irving wants to keep.