With his black protective mask and 41-point outing, Kyrie Irving looked like some sort of superhero, a Batman with a basketball.
But Irving’s mostly-one-man show still wasn’t enough to rescue the Cavaliers in Gotham City (well, New York) in a 103-102 loss to the Knicks Saturday.
But in Cleveland, Irving has an opportunity to be everything sports fans are seeking in the long-term. They’re seeking someone upon whom they can rely, someone to save the city from its recent run of sports mediocrity.
These days in Cleveland, “wait until next year” no longer means challenging for a championship (or even a playoff spot). It’s more like dreaming of a .500 record.
The Cavs are probably Cleveland’s best sports hope, with their many assets, bevy of draft picks and promising young talent. And Irving is their Dark Knight in shining armor.
He has played the equivalent of about one NBA season, but already looks like the best ball handler in a league teeming with them.
He’s just 20 years old, can drive, dish and shoot very well from the outside. He’s also proven to be poised late in games, his 17-point fourth quarter vs. the Knicks offering the latest example.
Basically, when it comes to re-purposing the roster, Irving is a fantastic place to start. It’s why the Cavs can live with their 5-20 record (even if it does hurt a little), why they can smile and why they can feel confident when thinking about the not-too-distant future.
Throw in backcourt mate Dion Waiters — a rookie shooting guard — and several other young faces (forwards Alonzo Gee and Tristan Thompson and rookie center Tyler Zeller), and the Cavs have what could develop into a solid supporting cast.
Granted, the effectiveness of the supporting staff remains to be seen, but again, there’s no doubting Irving. He’s averaging a shade less than 24 points, as well as 5.6 assists and 3.7 rebounds. Offensively, he’s crafty, confident and capable of keeping the ball moving and his teammates happy.
Off the floor, he’s a fun-loving jokester who also possesses plenty of polish for the times when seriousness and leadership are needed.
Of course, this isn’t to imply the kid is perfect.
Cavs coach Byron Scott publicly questioned Irving’s effort on defense after Friday’s home loss to Milwaukee. And for all his superheroics, Irving can occasionally get sloppy with the ball.
Then there are the injuries. Oh, the injuries.
We all know his medical record by now. First there was The Toe during his lone season at Duke. Then came The Shoulder and The Concussion in his rookie season. Then came The Broken Hand over the summer, then The Broken Finger, from which he returned not even a week ago after missing 11 games.
Now, there’s The Jaw, which he fractured against the Bucks — hence, the fitted protective mask.
It’s understandable when folks call Irving injury-prone, but that’s not entirely accurate. Unlucky would probably be a better word.
At some point, that luck has to change, doesn’t it?
When it does, and when the Cavs have used some of those draft picks, some of those tradable assets, some of that gigantic wiggle room under the salary-cap … well, Irving should be fronting something entirely different, something that gets Clevelanders a reason to believe in very good things again.
It may not seem like it now, not in another long season like this, but the Cavs and their fans should be thankful for Irving. At worst, he makes almost every night worth watching. At best, he’ll become the masked (or hopefully soon, unmasked) crusader for which this city longs.
As Bruce Wayne said in “The Dark Knight,” Gotham City needs a hero with a face.
For Cleveland, that man just might be Kyrie Irving.
• Waiters is expected to return to the Cavs’ lineup Tuesday vs. Toronto. He has missed the past eight games with a sprained ankle and bone bruise, but has been cleared to play. Waiters is averaging 15.2 points, and the Cavs are 4-0 when he scores at least 16.
• C.J. Miles has started the previous four games in Waiters’ place. Miles is averaging 22.5 points in that span. Scott has not yet indicated whether Miles or Waiters will start upon Waiters’ return.
• Tuesday’s game at The Q also marks the first meeting between Thompson, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 draft, and Toronto center Jonas Valenciunas, who was selected fifth. Valenciunas played overseas last season, making this his rookie year.
• The Raptors are 6-19 but have won two straight. Valenciunas is averaging 8.2 points and 5.5 rebounds. Since he’s a center, he’s likely to be matched up with Anderson Varejao — not Thompson, a power forward. Thompson is averaging 8.2 points and 7.6 rebounds.