Wow. I’m still trying to catch my breath after witnessing that display of utter “cold-bloodedness” last night.
We’ve all had the opportunity to witness (pardon the Cleveland pun) Kyrie Irving’s radical 4th quarter brilliance last season. Heck, we’ve already experienced it this season, as Irving scored the Cavs last 13 points in Milwaukee on Saturday night, only to come up short, thanks to Brandon Jennings’ buzzer beating ways.
Kyrie did it again last night in Los Angeles, with a game-clinching three ball in the game’s dying seconds. Though on this night, he also had some help in the form of his fellow 20-year old, rookie backcourt teammate Dion Waiters. Both of these young studs showed that there is no age minimum on making a statement. The statement was simple: The backcourt of the Cleveland Cavaliers is in great hands for years to come.
All the Cavs backcourt duo did was walk into the Staples Center and rip the hearts out of the Los Angeles Clippers and their Hollywood-dwelling fans. Slashing the lane and kicking it, or drilling long 26 foot daggers, you name it, they did it. The victims included one Chris Paul, famously known for his own 4th quarter heroics time and time again. Paul is older and wiser, but no less fearless than Irving, or perhaps Waiters, given last night was the standard. That’s what they’d like you to know.
Like “ball,” the numbers don’t lie, and they break down like like this: The two combined for 52 points on 18-40 shooting, including an incredible 11-19 (58%) from behind the arc. They also dished out 11 of the team’s 23 total assists.
What the numbers don’t show, perhaps the more important factor, is that these guys had zero problems handling the ball and handling the burden (I’m sure they would call it otherwise) of taking the final shot(s) in what is often a very hostile environment, last night included. It’s very telling that two 20-year olds can handle pressure in such a smooth fashion. Not only do they handle it, they make it extemely exciting to watch. I personally get chills when Kyrie has the ball at the end of the game, he seems unstoppable. The clutch shots and the active hands on defense that caused plenty of problems while the Clippers tried desperately to dig out of hole after hole.
Waiters is a different type of player than Irving, positionally and instinctively. He loves to shoot the ball. The more dramatic the shot or the occasion, the more he seemingly likes it. Remember, we have only a handful of games to judge this, but with some guys you can just tell. Big shot after big shot in the final period, Waiters looked like he was in his element out there, rookie or not.
All of these elements are a sign that the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to be fun to watch this season, and next, and the one after that.
Are they going to make the playoffs this season? Most, including myself, would say it’s very unlikely. Will Irving and Waiters have their share of bad shooting nights, taking ill-advised shots at the worst of times? Of course they are, you can count on it. But those will be growing pains, we all have them. The greater point is that they’re willing to take those shots without questions asked and understanding the consequences. Kyrie has they keys to this team and he knows it. Despite often being left unsatisfied, those are the expectations of a #1 overall draft pick in this league. He takes the ball, embraces the moment and makes you watch without blinking, or hold your breath like I did earlier.
The Cavs are still very much planted firmly in “rebuilding” mode, but despite only a short time having passed since LeBron left town, the Cavs have something special coming. You can feel it. Just like you can feel it when Kyrie has the ball in his hands, like something exciting is always going to happen. If we’re talking upside, this backcourt possesses some that is off the charts. They have a situation where they can put the Cavs back on the map. Are they there yet? No, and it might take a couple of eventual acquisitions to complete the transition from rebuilding to playoff contender. But people are starting to pay attention.
Irving (last season) and Waiters are out to prove the word “rookie” is simply just a measure of tenure. Last night’s slaying of the Clippers was a prime illustration.