Kyrie Irving saves his best for when Cavs face Finals elimination

1 Comment

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Whether it’s his lightning quick dribble, supreme confidence that doesn’t seem to waver or ability to score from almost anywhere on the court, Kyrie Irving seems to be at his best when things look the bleakest for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

LeBron James said his teammate is built for the drama of an NBA Finals elimination game, a trait the Golden State Warriors have learned all too well these past two years.

Whether it’s extending a season with a pair of 40-point performances or hitting the series-deciding 3-pointer in a Game 7 win last year, Irving’s already stellar game has risen to another level whenever the Cavs have faced elimination.

“It’s a time to definitely show everything that you’re made of in those moments,” Irving said Sunday on the eve of another elimination game with Cleveland trailing the Warriors 3-1 in the NBA Finals.

“You never want to be in those moments of elimination games, but when you are, you want to be as prepared as possible. And regardless of any situation, I always feel like if I do a great job of giving confidence in my teammates and remaining calm in the situation.”

Cleveland has won four straight Finals elimination games, rallying from a 3-1 series deficit to win the championship last year and then winning 137-116 in Game 4 on Friday night to extend this series.

Irving scored 40 points in the Game 5 win at Golden State last year, hit the tiebreaking 3-pointer in the final minute of Game 7 and scored 40 more on Friday, raising his average in those elimination games to 32.5 points per game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there have been only seven times a player scored at least 40 points to win when facing elimination in the Finals and Irving and James have each done it twice the past two years. Elgin Baylor did it twice in the 1960s and Wilt Chamberlain did it in 1970 for the Lakers.

“We love how aggressive Kyrie’s been, and it’s been great for our team, obviously, with his individual ability to make shots and to take big shots and to knock them down,” James said. “That’s been key for our team. And for the rest of us, we have to do everything else.”

Irving played just one game before injuring his knee in the first Finals meeting between these teams in 2015. He has been the barometer for Cleveland the past two years around the constant greatness from James.

Irving has scored nearly seven more points per game in Cavs wins than losses in the past two Finals with the biggest difference being his long-range shooting; he is shooting 27 percent in the six losses and 53 percent in the five wins.

That was especially evident in the Game 4 win when Irving hit seven of Cleveland’s record-setting 24 3-pointers.

“That’s a big difference,” Golden State guard Klay Thompson said. “When he’s getting 39 points off 2s, you can live with that. When he’s extending the floor and hitting those 3s, it opens the floor for everybody. We can’t let him do that again. We have to limit that number to two or three. Seven is too many.”

Thompson has spent most of the series chasing Irving around the court like a yellow lab who keeps chasing a ball, at least that’s how it looks at times to coach Steve Kerr. Thompson frustrated Irving early, holding him to 40 percent shooting the first two games.

But after getting moved off the ball at times, Irving played much better in the two games at home. He scored 38 points in the Game 3 loss before his big Game 4 performance.

“I think that in Game 1 and 2, as well as part of 3, just definitely got caught up in trying to find that rhythm with the basketball in my hands,” Irving said. “But as long as collectively as a group that everyone feels good, then my opportunities will come on breakdowns from their defense and offensively and things that we can be sharper at. I have to be implementing in those opportunities, and the way to do that is just being an open screener, being just a willing sacrificer, and the opportunities will come.

“And when those opportunities come, then you kill it.”

 

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

Leave a comment

James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.

Celtics to retire Paul Pierce’s number after Cavaliers game in February

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
2 Comments

The Celtics already said they’d retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34.

Now, we know when.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics announced today that they will retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34 after a mid-season game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, Feb. 11

After? That’s apparently in response to a new rule that penalizes teams not ready to play after a 15-minute halftime. These ceremonies can drag on, and nobody wants to cut Pierce short. I wonder whether this will start a trend of number retirements coming after games.