Kyrie Irving Hits 1st Game Winning Shot Of The Kyrie Irving Era, Cavs Beat C’s 88-87

With one minute to go in the first half on Sunday, as the TD Garden’s “Noise Meter” urged Boston’s faithful to their feet, Kyrie Irving calmly fired a laser from the top of the key through the Celtics defense. That pass found Anderson Varjeao standing wide open underneath the rim, who then regained a one point lead for his Cavaliers, 42-41. After an ensuing basket by the angriest rich man in the history of professional sports, Varjeao came back down and deposited two more from seven feet out. The Cavs took a 44-43 lead into the locker room at intermission as a result, and they’d come back out to play Boston to the most spectacular draw we’ve seen in Kyrie Irving’s young career over the next twenty-four minutes.

Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving (2) shoots the go-ahead basket between Boston Celtics' Brandon Bass (30) and Cavaliers' Anderson Varejao (17) with seconds left in an NBA basketball game in Boston, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012. The Cavaliers won 88-87.
Twenty-three minutes and thirty-eight seconds of game action later, Kyrie Irving patiently stood just above the top of the key. He wasn’t pounding the basketball into the hardwood beneath him with the nerves of jack-hammer, nor did he hope for a teammate to soon break free for a pass in the corner. He stood there planning to win the basketball game for his Cavaliers. He stood there embracing the opportunity to take his best shot on his team’s last offensive possession. With seven seconds to go he attacked the basket, with three seconds left he let it fly, and with only two seconds remaining he had connected on the first game winner of his nineteen game NBA career. 

Not to be lost in the heroics, is just how Kyrie Irving came to have that final opportunity for his game winning shot. As the Cavaliers preceding field goal attempt rimmed off with about 26 seconds to play, it did so with no reason or intention of landing in the hands of Anderson Varejao. If you rewind that play, seconds before the last of Anderson Varjeao’s nine rebounds for the game, you almost don’t even think he’s in the play. Before he launches his body specifically into it that is, and claws his way to possession of a basketball he had no business securing. Until he did, called timeout, and put Kyrie Irving on center stage. Most players in the NBA don’t want it that bad, but Anderson Varejao isn’t most players in the NBA.

Nor would most coaches wind down the last twenty-two seconds of the game clock, trailing by one, and instruct their 19-year old rookie to begin his attack of the basket with seven seconds left. Man’s game, Byron, nice call. Scott believed that Kyrie Irving can finish at the rim as good as anybody in the NBA, right now, and he was proved correct in that assessment on Sunday in Boston. With Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and the ghosts of Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Larry Bird all packed into the paint trying to stop Kyrie Irving, nobody could. Kyrie was simply better than everybody else. Only a few weeks after missing his first game winner that just about went down in Indiana, the kid cashed this one in because his Coach went right back too him. And his team rolled out of Boston with an 88-87 win they never should’ve gotten.

Boston Celtics' Ray Allen (20) heads off the court as Cleveland Cavaliers Anderson Varejao, right, and Mychel Thompson (21) celebrate an 88-87 win in an NBA basketball game in Boston, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012.
That game winning basket completed a 23-point, 6-assist, and 4-rebound game for Irving on 10 of 14 shooting from the field. Those are monster numbers, and maybe one day soon this nonsensical debate over who the Rookie Of The Year is so far this season might stop. If you’ve ever watched basketball before, it’s not even close. Kyrie Irving is a monster folks, and his averages of 18 points and 5 assists per game only begin to tell that story. He also hits game winners against the most storied franchise in NBA history too. Get used to it, deal with it, embrace it, whatever, but it’s all real here with this Irving kid.

Anderson Varjeao was monster too on Sunday in his own right though, no way around that. In addition to hustling all over the court, Varejao also posted a stat line that read 18 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. Simply put, he’s playing like an All Star right now. Hashtag real talk, hashag fact, hashtag if Noah, Chandler, or McGee make it over him I’m boycotting All Star Weekend. If you think any of those guys should make it over Varjeao I’m also boycotting you too. What more could anybody ask for from this guy? He’s playing defense, diving all over the place like he always did, and he’s also gotten himself into this Karl Malone type of rhythm offensively with Kyrie on the pick-and-roll too. He scored as many points as Paul Pierce on Sunday, five more than Brandon Bass, four more than Kevin Garnett, and he out-rebounded everybody on the Boston front-line as well in the process.

Omri Casspi’s seven first half points were big in the early going too, Mychel Thompson’s first two baskets of his NBA career couldn’t have come at a better time in the fourth quarter, and Alonzo Gee played his best game of the season so far too with 14 points and 6 rebounds. But this win was essentially decided by Kyrie and Andy; because while Ramon Sessions and Antawn Jamison combined to shoot 6 for 23, Varejao and Irving went 18 for 26 in scoring 41 of the Cavaliers 88 points. The Cavs dominated the paint as a team (54-32) too, and turned it over three less times (13) than the Celtics (16) did also. All good stuff. 

It’s wins like this that make you think the Cavaliers might not be quite bad enough to finish outside of playoff “contention” this season, but it’s also finishes as spectacular as this one that make me forget all about “draft picks” too. It also makes you wonder if maybe Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varjeao are just getting started playing alongside each other also. Teams will want Andy at the trade deadline, and they will be right to try and get him, but it’s going to take a whole lot of assets to pry him away from this Cavaliers organization right now I think. The win moves Cleveland back into a tie with Milwaukee (8-11) for the 8th best record in the Eastern Conference, and next up are these same Boston Celtics in Cleveland on Tuesday. I don’t care that Rajon Rondo was out either, it’s always fun to beat Boston. Nice work, Cavs.

Brendan Bowers

About Brendan Bowers

I am the founding editor of I am also a content strategist and social media manager with Electronic Merchant Systems in Cleveland. My work has been published in SLAM Magazine, KICKS Magazine, The Locker Room Magazine,,, and elsewhere. I've also written a lot of articles that have been published here.