clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Poetry in Motion: Inside Kyrie Irving and Lebron James dismantling the Celtics at their best

Kyrie Irving and Lebron James each had 24 points in the second half as they dismantled the Boston Celtics and pushed them to the brink. CelticsBlog spoke with the stars on both sides to dive into how they made their magic happen.

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

CLEVELAND – There was a daunting déjà vu for Kyrie Irving late in the third quarter of Game 4. He was writhing in the ground in pain after stepping on Terry Rozier’s foot going up for a layup, which he hit of course.

Down on the sideline, wondering if this was the end of his night, he thought back to the many times he had been there before. Spraining his ankle was nothing new.

The blindingly bright wooden floor shining in his face, the void left by the silence of the crowd amplifying his groans. He faced his sink or swim moment. That’s when his adrenaline kicked in and lasted plenty more than one play. It carried him to 15 points in 13 minutes, an unrelenting barrage of daggers and close-range body blows that pushed the Celtics from opponents to witnesses.

“I've twisted my ankle so many times on plays like that,” Irving said after the game. “You have two choices: Either you can sit there and kind of wallow in the sorrow of you twisting your ankle, or capture the moment.”

Irving sought the glory of the latter. In a game in which he had just carried his team out of the creeping darkness of LeBron James’ foul trouble and the Celtics’ relentless execution, Kyrie said carpe diem.

He brushed off the pain, found his balance and got to work. The very next Cavs possession, Irving dropped off the ball to LeBron at the top of the key and immediately got a seal on Rozier. As the defense prepared for James to go to work, the two connected on a telekinetic level, with LeBron lofting a perfectly placed pass for Kyrie to snatch, turn, and float to the net in an effortless aerial glide.

Moment seized.

“In the back of my mind, I was like, I’m saying to myself, ‘They cannot tie up this series.’ We cannot go to Boston 2-2 and then it becomes almost an even series,” said Irving.

LeBron would then hit the bench and everything was on Kyrie, ankle throbbing under the blanket of courage. In what could have been a moment of weakness for the Cleveland Cavaliers, it became the push back to wrestle back control of the series.

“I've been saying he's a special kid. He's a special talent,” LeBron said. :”As the stakes get higher and higher, his game gets higher and higher, but it was nothing surprising for me. But he rose to the occasion, and he put the team on his back, and we definitely needed that effort from him.”

He wove a tale Tuesday evening that went beyond scrappy and skilled. He’s had his clutch winners in Game 7 of the Finals. He’s had his dominant 50-point performances. This was a carefully crafted epic, with his intricate penmanship all over it.

“Kyrie had a great game. I got in foul trouble a little bit, and I got switched off, you know, a lot of the times,” Bradley said to CelticsBlog in his post-game press conference. “But we have to do a better job as a team at the end of the day.”

The ball is not an extension of his hand, but of his mind. He works with space and time in a way unlike anyone else, seeing room as a chance to surprise and closeness as an opportunity to move.

Even when Bradley would cover Irving’s right hand and force him left, it would simply play to Kyrie’s advantage. He is becoming devoid of weakness, with his limitation being purely how badly he wants it in the moment.

Irving’s bag of tricks wouldn’t even fit on the team plane. He put every defender he faced n a spellbinding daze, dancing them into a trance that made finding the paint appear mutually agreed upon. Bradley explained that the biggest challenge is keeping up with every little move he puts on the defender to work his way out of what may at first feel like good defense.

“I think all the counters and he's able to shoot the ball. You know, you can't get into him too much. You can't back off him. He's a great finisher.”

Lue categorizes his point guard in a unique class

“Very unstoppable. He's probably one of or the best one-on-one player in the league. When you give him room and give him space, he can get to anywhere he wants to get on the floor, and we know that. And what I think is probably the best on-ball defender in the league is Avery Bradley, and to take that challenge and to score a few baskets like that against Avery just shows you how good and special Kyrie is with the basketball because not too many guys are getting around Avery.”

Irving has worked past the initial adjustment with James, knowing when it's his turn and when to pick his spots. They have reached a functioning equilibrium to ride the hot hand and use it to feed off each other. Kyrie said after Game 4 that he is perfecting finding his spots to help LeBron rest, but his role evolves beyond that in the playoffs. Now Kyrie is taking his killer instinct to a different extension, built over years of witnessing LeBron wound his prey and then finish them off with authority. Sending a message that he is superior and he knows it.

It brought Kyrie to one vital moment, a test of his confidence, ability, and ultimate value. He had continually torn the Celtics apart scoring on four straight possessions as LeBron returned to the bench. He had the ball on the last possession of a quarter that saw the Cavs spit all over the Celtics' well-executed game plan.

With Terry Rozier guarding him in isolation at the three-point line, Irving began his mating ritual with the hoop. Irving uses his through-the-legs stationary dribble to bide time, slowly inching the unwitting defender deeper toward the hoop. Right when Irving gets close enough for his shot, he jab steps into a cross over and steps back in rhythm.

It was the capstone to his thesis that he is a truly complete and great offensive player, almost a miniature version of his mentor. 21 points in the quarter. Career playoff high 42 points on the night. He was channeling the King. He is the Prince.

Whether it be driving through the middle.

Or poking for space to pull up in rhythm.

There is a peculiar trait LeBron possesses that separates him from the rest of the great players in the NBA. He reads the floor like a chess match, looking at how his action can expose a vulnerability several actions down the line. Whether it’s an early pass, dribble move, or early position, he is setting something up down the line. He is looking for familiarity, reaching deep into his apparently photographic memory to see where this weakness was exposed ten minutes ago.

“It was just trying to read the game, the game in between the game, and it worked well for us,” James told CelticsBlog in his post-game press conference.

Those wheels are starting to turn for Kyrie at a speed that makes him consistently unstoppable. He sees how his dribble moves can subtly push the defense to the spot he wants, unbeknownst to them. He maps out how he can work the perimeter like a post-up and attack at an angle to draw the defense just outside of the lane he truly wants. He flashes the ball to get the defenders’ mouth watering, then blows by them as they slip on their own drool.

Torches don't get handed over in one demonstrative passing of the flame. They are burned into the disciple ember by ember. As LeBron continues to be the best player in the game as he approaches the point at which most human athletes would decline, he is recognizing that his city and his team will one day be helmed by Irving.

“It's hard not to think about because as I continue to get older and I'm playing with an unbelievable player like Bron,” Irving said. “It hasn't been anything short of difficult, trying to figure out when will it be my time.

“My job is to be in the moment, especially with an unbelievable player like him. You have to just enjoy the ride just as much. You know, individual goals that you have to just push to the side because this team, nothing is promised.”

But when he rises to the occasion in such a spectacular way, LeBron sees his eventual successor proving himself the heir to the throne.

“His game was built for it,” LeBron said. “I’m happy to be able to sit back with four fouls and see him do what he's always been built to do. He was born for these moments.”

The onus has shifted gradually, as Irving takes more control of the offense and is becoming more of an equal partner in the offense. They are all too aware that their incredible achievements to win the finals last year will need to reach another level to repeat this year. Kyrie and LeBron are laying a path to trek through Oakland once again.

“I've learned from some of the best that have played this game, and you can't cheat it,” Irving said. “I've become more of an observer as well as a leader at the same time, which I'm super proud of. So it all comes with the great veteran leadership we have on this team that allows me to do that.”

Irving has learned from his veterans and has mirrored them in their subtle greatness. He has come through in so many ways, but he is a win away from entering a series against a team never quite seen before. The man from the third quarter is the player Irving knows he will have to be to win another title.

“The only thing that matters in the Playoffs is winning, and that's all I care about. I'm going to go out shooting all my bullets and making sure that my teammates do the same and leave it all out there.”

The chamber was emptied in Game 4. Time to reload.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Celtics Blog Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Boston Celtics news from Celtics Blog