NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Irving dominates — and proves he’s a worth sidekick to LeBron — The NBA world is abuzz this morning about Kyrie Irving‘s 57-point masterpiece of a game in the Cavs’ OT win over the Spurs last night. (If you missed it, you can watch every single one of his buckets right here). Not only did the win help keep the Cavs in the chase for the No. 2 spot in the East, it also proved, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com, that Irving is turning out to be a more-than worthy sidekick to LeBron James:
Before Kyrie Irving could become the hero and score the last nine points of regulation, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to force overtime, and before Irving could top even that by scoring 11 of the Cavs’ 18 points in OT to earn the 128-125 win in what had to be the league’s best regular-season game this season, James needed to remind all of his guys that even when down double digits in the lion’s den, they had the power to make something happen.
“LeBron told us in the timeout, ‘Win, lose or draw, still fight to the end,'” Tristan Thompson said. “And guys believed.”
Spend enough time in the Cavs’ locker room and you’ll hear a version of James’ message uttered on a daily basis. Guys will chirp, “Stay with it,” as a sort of catch phrase that’s become an inside joke (they usually pronounce it more like, “Stayyyy wittttt it”), quoting a recurring piece of advice imparted by assistant coach James Posey.
“Coach Pos started it,” James said. “You know, stay with it, and that’s what we’ve got to do. No matter what’s going on throughout the game, no matter what’s going on throughout the season, we’ve got to stay with it, stay with our process, stay with what we need to do, both offensively and defensively, on the bus, on the plane, whatever the case may be. We’ve always got to stay with what we’re trying to build around here, and that’s championship DNA.”
To build that DNA, first the Cavs had to draw blood from a champion.
There was room for only one truly transcendent star on this night, anyway, and it was Irving.
Once James got his teammates to believe, he showed how strong his belief was in them right back. Rather than being the one to get the last shot and try to, with one flip of the wrist, exorcise the AT&T Center demons that have haunted him the past nine months when his hopes for ring No. 3 died, James took the ball out of bounds and passed to Irving for the final shot of regulation.
The historical significance of the performance was baked in, as Irving topped his own NBA season-high mark of 55 points while simultaneously edging James’ Cavs franchise record of 56 points and also managing to tie Purvis Short’s record of 57 points for the most points ever scored by a San Antonio opponent. And, to give context to just how well the Spurs played and still lost, it was just the second time in the Popovich-Duncan era that San Antonio shot 56 percent or better at a team (it shot 56.3 percent Thursday) and didn’t win.
But he didn’t want any part of it. “I don’t want the game ball,” he told a team attendant afterward. Nor did he seem to be too keen on setting aside any keepsake from the night — Mike Miller was the recipient of his autographed, game-worn sneakers, which Miller toted out of the locker room with a smile on his face. Irving did say he planned to go to Disney World on Friday, but those were plans he already made before going bonkers on the Spurs, what with the team heading to Florida for an Orlando/Miami back-to-back.
What Irving got out of this night was an ascendance to James’ level and an acceptance from the four-time MVP that he doesn’t just have a young, talented guy out there by his side, he has a partner. When Irving scored 55 points against Portland earlier in the season, James was out with a sore wrist. When he scored 57 against San Antonio, it came on a night when James scored 31 and the two of them combined to score Cleveland’s final 27 points (20 for Irving, seven for James).