Kyrie Irving’s emergence means LeBron James doesn’t always have to shoulder the load
When LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers struggled offensively against the Knicks, it was up to Kyrie Irving to lead. And lead he did, allowing Cleveland to overcome an off James night.
LeBron James wasn’t on, but increasingly, he has the luxury not to worry.
As a team, the Cleveland Cavaliers were having trouble scoring against one of the NBA’s worst defenses Thursday night. In the end, they still had just enough juice to drop the New York Knicks, 90-87, in Madison Square Garden thanks to 37 points from Kyrie Irving.
This is why James returned to Cleveland.
It’s close to home, sure. But it’s hard to imagine James favoring the Cavaliers in free agency this summer without Irving already in tow, let alone being locked up for the foreseeable future.
Irving has been stellar after going 3-for-17 during a Nov. 4 game against the Blazers and following it up with 45 minutes of assist-less basketball against Utah the next night, which led to James saying the Cavs needed to grow up. Irving has only shot below 45 percent in two of his 14 games played over the past month. On Thursday, he went 12-for-18 from the floor and scored on all seven of his shots near the cup.
Irving looped his way through the lane and every one of his artistic dribbles were more meaningful than they were just a month ago. He went between the legs. He spun, went off the wrong foot and switched hands midair.
Irving’s last bucket came with 10 seconds left. A double crossover against Iman Shumpert led to a left-handed drive, and Irving scooped a running bank shot over Amare Stoudemire’s help defense, high off the glass and in to give Cleveland a three-point lead that would hold.
James exerted little effort on the play. He didn’t need to.
By the end of the night, James went 7-for-17 from the floor and his jumper wasn’t on target. The Cavaliers only got 11 points from Kevin Love and 10 total bench points, but these are the times the elder of Cleveland’s three All-Stars can be thankful.
To be critical of the Irving’s low assist numbers is fair to a point, but playing with James changes the situation dramatically. James, after all, is a point guard in a power forward’s body. Considering that, there’s little room to question Irving when he’s shooting so well. James finished with 12 assists Thursday night and five of those went to Irving.
This is what LeBron asked for and what he dreamed of as he nears his 30th birthday at the end of December. His effort in 2014-15 has been more as a teacher and less hands on than ever. He’s still the driving force for the Cavaliers, and it’s easy to see why James came to the conclusion that returning to Cleveland was the right move — even without looking at the benefits of prolonging his career.
Coming back to Cleveland was the right move because Kyrie Irving is damn good and getting better.