In a Game 4 matchup against the Boston Celtics where LeBron James faced unprecedented foul trouble that forced him to sit for much of the first half, Kyrie Irving was the king of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The game was teetering on the edge for the Cavs, as they trailed by as many as 16 points and faced the embarrassment of the series going back to Boston tied up. Kyrie just wasn’t letting that happen, though, as he not only weathered the storm while LeBron rode the bench, he turned on another gear.
That next level for Kyrie resulted in a third quarter for the ages, where he dropped 21 points and only missed one shot. While the numbers are gaudy, the way Kyrie dissected the Celtics’ defense was the real treat. Irving weaved through the defense like there was nobody in front of him and pulled off a number of crafty layups that literally made your jaw drop. The degree of difficulty was off the charts, but that didn’t matter to Kyrie, who led the Cavs to a 112-99 victory and left the Celtics on the brink of elimination.
This performance by Kyrie was not a surprise to those who have continually watched him over the years. Hell, he hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history in the Finals just last year. Everyone knows what Kyrie brings to the table, and when he’s on, few in the league can match the excitement he brings. Last night, however, was about more than just Kyrie’s talent.
It was about the young superstar taking over when LeBron was not being the guy for the Cavs. Since 2014, the Cavs have been dreadful without LeBron on the court. They almost certainly lose when LeBron sits and Kyrie and Kevin Love play, despite the latter two being All-Stars. It hasn’t really mattered because in the playoffs, LeBron activates Zero Dark Thirty-23 mode.
However, in the past two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, with LeBron in a shooting funk and then foul trouble, Kyrie took it upon himself to lead the team. This was even with a bum ankle, which he twisted in the third quarter. It didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to let the Cavs lose.
With the Cavs now about to wrap up the Celtics series, things aren’t going to get easier for Kyrie and Company. The juggernaut Golden State Warriors await. The Cavs will be underdogs in the Finals. Cleveland will need the Kyrie who showed up in Game 4 if they have any hopes of a repeat. But the thing is, Kyrie has proven that he can deliver. Whether it pays off again this year remains to be seen, but with the lights brighter than ever before, Kyrie Irving is ready to take the throne.