Dribbles: Kyrie’s 57 just one part of Cavs’ amazing night
Random dribbles on the Cavaliers’ thriller of a 128-125 overtime road win over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs on Thursday:
1. Kyrie Irving. Fifty-seven points. Amazing. And it wasn’t just that Irving scored 57. It was how he did it against a team that’s won five titles in the modern era — and has been in these types of situations (and often comes out on the winning end) time and time again.
2. For instance, 27 of Irving’s points came in the fourth quarter/OT. In the final minute of regulation and overtime, he was an icy 6-of-8 shooting for 20 points. So Kyrie didn’t just make shots. He made winning shots. And he burned a team that is usually the one that gets it done in the clutch. But Irving and the Cavs made a statement here. If you weren’t taking them seriously before, well, it’s time to join reality.
3. The Spurs entered the night as winners of six straight. Twitter was abuzz with how Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard battled LeBron James. Leonard is a really nice player, the reigning Finals MVP. But again, it was the Cavs who came through in the clutch.
4. Leonard, on the other hand, missed two free throws with the Spurs leading 110-107 and 4.3 seconds left in regulation. That set up Irving’s heroics, as he buried a 3-pointer as time expired to send the game into OT. And guess who Irving rose to hit the shot over? You guessed it: Leonard.
5. That’s not intended to rip Leonard. He scored 24 points and hustled and generally played winning basketball. Everyone misses free throws. But the point is this: Don’t listen to the blowhards on Twitter. Just watch and enjoy the game. This Cavs team, right now, is simply on fire. Make it 23-5 since Jan.15, the best in the NBA in that span. Tweet that.
6. And for all the praise of Leonard, LeBron still scored 31 points on 10-of-20 shooting and passed for seven assists. It truly was one of his better performances of the season. Tweet that, too.
7. Meanwhile, Kevin Love scored just eight points on 2-of-10 shooting, and sat the entire fourth quarter. But Love’s reoccurring (and minor) back issue appeared to flare up in the third, when he went up for two shots near the basket and got hammered twice. The whistle never blew. On the ensuing possession, Love had to take a knee at the free-throw line (as opposed to the usual stance for a rebound). He gutted it out in overtime, the Cavs needing his size.
8. It’s just speculation, but Love will likely be fine and ready to play after a couple days rest. The Cavs don’t return to action until Sunday at Orlando.
9. OK, back to Irving. He spent the night looking like former NFL running back Barry Sanders — as Kyrie weaved through, around and sometimes over the determined Spurs defenders. "Kyrie Irving was unstoppable," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "I don’t know how to guard that. He did a hell of a job. He really went to a new level."
10. Mostly, the fact the Cavs (42-25) won a game like this really shows how far they’ve come, as well as what they’re capable of achieving. With so many new faces, and a new coach in David Blatt, you couldn’t have blamed them for losing a road game to a team like the Spurs.
11. When Leonard went to the line to seal the game, I thought, "Well, we can’t really expect the Cavs to actually win a game like this. Not yet. But at least they kept it close." Then the Spurs handed the Cavs an opportunity, and the Cavs, particularly Irving, snatched it.
12. Tristan Thompson put forth yet another underrated showing with 12 points (on 5-of-9 shooting) and nine rebounds off the bench. You know you’re doing things right when Charles Barkley calls you the game’s best offensive rebounder — as Barkley referred to Thompson during the TNT broadcast.
13. Speaking of the bench, Iman Shumpert struggled shooting (1-of-6) but made a nice steal, grabbed six boards and the Cavs were a plus-11 with him on the floor. That was best on the team, and that’s no surprise, as Shumpert simply loves to defend.
14. Most nights, I’d just now finish writing about LeBron. It’s not often a guy shoots 50 percent and scores a "quiet" 31 points. LeBron also shot 3-of-6 on threes and pulled down five rebounds.
15. I still have no idea why Blatt refuses to use Timofey Mozgov (10 points, six rebounds) in the fourth quarter. It has to be on purpose, and I’m not convinced it’s entirely wise. But if I’m a Cavs fan, I’m not overly worried about it, either. This team is cruising.
16. The Cavs enter the weekend 1.5 games ahead of Chicago for both the Central Division lead and the No. 2 playoff seed in the East. They’re 2.5 games ahead of Toronto. I don’t think the Raptors can catch them, and the Bulls are without their injured starting backcourt of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler — so I don’t really think they can catch the Cavs, either.
17. Meanwhile, Indiana is 3.5 games back of Milwaukee for the sixth seed, and the Cavs are probably hoping the Pacers pass the Bucks. The Pacers are a veteran team and could get star Paul George (broken leg) back before the playoffs. If the Cavs do indeed finish second, my guess is they’d rather face the Bucks than Pacers in the first round.
18. Anyway, back to the Spurs. Tony Parker was fantastic with 31 points, Danny Green scored 24 and Tim Duncan finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Duncan simply continues to amaze at the age of 38. I sure hope young big men watch his footwork, smarts and ball-handling skills. I don’t usually play favorites, but man, the Spurs are a blast to watch for anyone who really loves basketball. This was a great game and they do things the right way.