Kyrie Irving demonstrated the leadership he planned to embrace this year during the fourth quarter of Saturday night's 127-125 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
With his Cleveland Cavaliers trailing by 10 heading into the final period—after dropping the third quarter to Philly, 37-22—Irving asserted himself like the superstar he is for the first time this season.
He finished with 13 points during the fourth to help force two overtimes before sealing the victory with a game-winning layup in the second OT. Irving had failed to convert two game-winning drives at the end of regulation along with the first overtime but kept coming at Philly with nine more points after regulation to finish with 39 for the night.
Twenty-two of those points for Irving, to go along with six assists, came after the end of the third quarter specifically. He also dished out 12 assists and collected five rebounds for the game while turning it over only three times in 48 minutes of work. Following an inexcusable loss on Friday to the same Sixers team, this was a win Cleveland
desperately really needed and Irving played like that down the stretch.
After the game, Sixth Man of the Year candidate C.J. Miles told me that the Cavs' ability to overcome adversity late against Philly is something that can get his squad going in the right direction moving forward.
Heading into Monday's matchup with the Chicago Bulls, Miles is averaging 13.1 points on 50 percent shooting in 20.4 minutes of work off the bench if you need him.
BB: You seem like you're really in a groove right now, how you feeling?
Miles: I feel good. I've been getting some good looks and been able to make some shots, make some plays. Because I've shot the basketball well from the outside I've been able to drive it too and I'm just confident in everything I've worked on. I've been working hard trying to become a better shooter and a better basketball player all around and I've been able to use that to help my team.
BB: Are there some things you did this summer that you can point to that you really feel like are paying off specifically out there?
Miles: I was working on a lot of game situation type stuff. I was in Cleveland talking with the coaches about the type of things we wanted to run and the type of things that we wanted to do. And then they've allowed me to play a little bit more free, also, just play basketball. They've trusted what I can do and my judgment, as far as the plays I can make, which allows me to be able to do more things and you get a rhythm in the game that way. I've been able to just take steps with the more trust they give me and the more plays I've been able to make they've been letting me score more and more and I've been able to grow confident in it.
BB: Battling back down 10 in the fourth quarter, do you feel like this is something you guys can build on early in a season?
Miles: It's a big thing for a young team like us, just being able to show that fight and being able to overcome adversity. There were plenty of times we could've put our head down in the game and let it go. Or guys could've strayed away from the game plan just because we're down trying to make incredible plays. But we stayed the course and did the right things and that's what kept us in the game. And we relied on guys to make plays in the time that we needed too, we relied on Kyrie and Dion to make the plays we know they can make.
Irving + Jack + Waiters = 83 points
As Miles mentioned, Dion Waiters made some huge plays down the stretch as well alongside Irving. He finished with 24 points on 9-of-19 shooting and helped combine with Irving and Jarrett Jack (20 points) to score 83 of Cleveland's 127 points (65.3 percent).
While it's certainly on the high end, this is the type of three-guard production that seemed possible when Jack was inked to a deal this summer. But despite the plays that both Jack and Waiters made, the Cavaliers offensive attack—from a backcourt perspective or otherwise—begins and ends with Irving as it did on Saturday.
When the Cavs All-Star comes out playing like the alpha dog who expects to take games over in any situation, his teammates are able to follow suit. He provides an opportunity to make the game easier for everyone around him, along with an energy and confidence that's simply contagious. That's what we saw from Irving on Saturday night and that's what Cavs fans have been waiting to see this season.
So while nobody's trying to crown the Sixers by any means—and Evan Turner shouldn't be allowed to combined with Thaddeus Young to score 60 no matter how many overtimes are played—this certainly is the type of win that's big for a young team like Cleveland just as Miles said it was.
Photo: AP Photo/Tony Dejak