Kyrie Irving scores a career-high 26 points to lead Cavs to victory over the Suns

9 Comments

This was supposed to be the soft part of the schedule for Phoenix. Kyrie Irving made sure that it wasn’t.

The number one overall pick in the NBA draft showed why he was taken there, scoring a career-best 26 points and keying a second-quarter run that erased the Suns’ six-point lead, and put the Cavaliers ahead for good on the way to a 101-90 victory at the US Airways Center in Phoenix on Thursday.

Irving started slowly, with just four points in seven first-quarter minutes. But he absolutely took this game over in the second quarter, scoring 12 straight points once he checked back in to turn a six-point deficit into a six-point lead that the Cavs would never relinquish.

“I was basically just feeding off my teammates,” Irving said, being much too humble considering his performance during that stretch. “They were going under the screen, I was just taking what the defense gave me and being aggressive. My teammates had the confidence in me to keep on feeding me the ball and telling me to keep going, so that’s what I did.”

As the Suns went under the screens time and again, Irving made them pay. Only the last basket of his personal run came in the paint; the rest were all jumpers, including two three-pointers. Irving talked about how teams are respecting his drive more, which has led to his being more open for the outside shot. But most importantly, he seemed to realize from the bench that he needed to be the one to provide the spark to turn the game in his team’s favor once he re-entered the game.

“I felt that it was just a time to be a lot more aggressive,” Irving said of his second-quarter offensive explosion. “First quarter is where you feel out what the defense is, second quarter I told myself when I went back in I was just going to be aggressive — for my teammates first, and then myself. It happened to be when I was making a few shots, we got the lead and we never looked back.”

Steve Nash had a typically strong game numbers-wise, finishing with 16 points and 15 assists. But there was only so much he could do as his team was killed on the glass, giving up 15 offensive rebounds that resulted in 20 second chance points. Irving talked about how it felt to go up against one of the league’s best at his position.

“It was definitely fun, playing against a great point guard such as Steve Nash,” he said. “I’ve been watching him for so long, now that I’m finally playing against him, it’s a little surreal. But once you’re out there, you’re in the game. I’m a competitor as well as he is. He’s still doing the things he’s done through his whole entire career — 16 points, 15 assists — it’s impressive. It was an honor playing against him.”

On this night, Irving was even more impressive. He finished 11-of-17 from the field, added six assists, and single-handedly made the plays necessary to turn the game around. From there, Anderson Varejao grabbed a season-high 17 rebounds, the Cavs played some excellent defense (especially against the Suns’ second unit) and forced Phoenix into plenty of bad possessions. Cleveland held the Suns to just 60 points over the game’s final three quarters.

One bright spot for Phoenix was the play of Michael Redd, who made his Suns debut to the tune of 12 points in just over 19 minutes. Redd drained his first two shots, both of which were wide open threes from the corner that he didn’t hesitate for a second to knock down. Redd said afterward he felt great, and that his wind was better than expected. He just needs to continue to acclimate himself to what the Suns are trying to do offensively, and he should be a strong contributor for the team as the season progresses.

Thursday, however, belonged to Kyrie Irving. Phoenix had won three straight at home fairly easily, and hoped to get above .500 with back-to-back home games against Cleveland and New Jersey before heading out on a brutal five-game road trip against some of the league’s elite teams.

Irving’s second quarter changed all that.

Watch Kawhi Leonard score two clutch buckets, including game-winner, in his return

0 Comments

Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return for the first 47 minutes Monday night: 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

But that final minute was special.

First, there was a great hustle play from Paul George — also making his return — that got the ball to Leonard to tie it up.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner.

Los Angeles picked up the 119-117 win on the road. Not exactly pretty, but for a team just starting to get healthy and build some chemistry, they showed resilience and got the win. Leonard finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and George looked sharp on his way to 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. It was a balanced Clippers attack, which is what Tyronn Lue is trying to build.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 28 and P.J. Washington added 26 for the shorthanded Hornets.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
0 Comments

Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.