Kyrie Irving wears the warmup as he hits for 23 points in the final round (Getty Images)
As if Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star guard Kyrie Irving wasn’t frightening enough, the second-year waterbug dominated the NBA’s Three-Point Shootout on Saturday night in Houston, shooting brilliantly during the final round on his way to a 23-point score and the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest championship.
Irving isn’t known as a three-point shooter despite his 41 percent career mark from behind the stripe. Pitched as a scorer and savior for the lottery-bound Cavs, Irving has still managed to make two treys per game this season in spite of the defensive shifts bent on denying him good looks, while hitting 42 percent from long range in his second season. Though opponents are best served ducking under screens and anticipating Irving’s brilliant work off the dribble, there’s a reason he’s able to parlay both disparate offensive talents into an uber-efficient 23.5 points per game in his sophomore season.
Pitched against the favorite in longtime three-point marksman (and, weirdly, first-time participant) Matt Bonner in the final round, Irving’s sound stroke and effortless follow-through set the stage and put the pressure on the San Antonio Spurs forward with the youngster’s final round mark of 23. It was no fluke, as Irving managed 18 in the first round and saw several shots spin out.
The championship round was more of the same. Only one shot — a miss that hit the heel of the rim on the second rack of the round — could have been called a bad miss. A few inches gone right, here and there, and Irving may have finished with 29 out of 30 points.
Observers were right to question Irving’s legs as he headed into the contest. The Cavs guard dropped jaws on Friday night with his work in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge and will come off the bench for the East in Sunday night’s All-Star Game. It’s possible the sweat on his brow from Friday was all he needed to work in rhythm during his time in the shootout. And considering his Eastern conference teammates’ struggles in the competition — the Indiana Pacers’ Paul George struggled terribly and finished with 10 points, while New York Knicks forward Steve Novak disappointed with 17 points in the first round — Irving’s win was a necessary tonic in the convoluted East/West scoring system in this newish All-Star Weekend gimmick.
What counts above all is the scintillating work of the NBA’s newest standout point guard, someone who should have been an All-Star last season, and a player who won’t even turn 21 for another month. Kyrie Irving may have the slickest crossover and penetration skills of any player in the NBA, and yet he’s already won a three-point contest. In a lot of ways, this isn’t fair.
Kyrie Irving will also play in the All-Star Game on Sunday. If the ball finds his hands enough, Irving could make this a long weekend to remember.
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