COMMENTARY | In his 2011-12 rookie year, Kyrie Irving showed the potential to be a star in the NBA. Last season, he delivered on that potential.
Averaging 22.5 points and 5.9 assists in only 34.7 minutes per game, Irving quickly established himself as one of the league's rare players who can, and almost always does, completely takeover every game he plays in.
Without much help from a young Cavaliers roster that suffered the season-ending loss of Anderson Varejao in mid-December--who was leading the league with 14.4 rebounds per game--Irving managed to single-handedly keep the Cavaliers relevant before suffering a shoulder injury that kept him out for three weeks at the end of March and resulted in the Cavaliers slumping to the finish line with a 24-58 record.
Last week, it was announced that Irving would be invited to attend the USA Basketball Men's National Team mini-camp being held in Las Vegas in late July. For a lot of other second-year players, that might serve as the perfect proving ground to showcase oneself against the league's top players, but after his 2012-13 season, Kyrie can rest assured that the rest of the league has already taken notice.
Here are Irving's top five moments of the 2012-2013 season.
5. Irving Delivers a Last-Second Dagger
Needing two to tie and go into overtime, Irving drained a last-second three with a man in his face to put things on ice against the Toronto Raptors on January 26th. It was Irving's final exclamation mark on a game where he dropped 32 points as the Cavaliers won 99-98. There are games in a young player's career that seem to forecast their potential greatness--this was one of them.
4. Kyrie Outshines the All-Stars
If you can somehow win All-Star Weekend, Kyrie Irving did it this year. Irving started the weekend on Friday night by scoring 32 points in the NBA Rising Stars Challenge, finishing second in the game's MVP voting, and stealing every ounce of Brandon Knight's dignity. Irving then upset the field to win the 3-Point Shootout on Saturday by defeating favorites Steve Novak and Matt Bonner. He capped the weekend off by scoring 15 points off the bench in Sunday's All-Star game--not a bad weekend for someone who was voted to the All-Star team as a reserve by NBA coaches.
3. A Rivalry Renewed?
Playing against a rival always makes for an exciting game. But ever since LeBron left Cleveland, the Cavaliers-Celtics match-ups haven't exactly been the Ali-Frazier heavyweight bouts they used to be. Irving looked hell-bent on changing that on January 22nd in Quicken Loans Arena. Irving scored 40 points, 19 in the first, 15 in the fourth, to defeat the Celtics by a score of 95-90. Even more impressive, 11 of his 15 fourth quarter points came in the final 2:31.
2. Kyrie's Career Game in Madison Square Garden
On December 15th, Kyrie Irving joined the Cavaliers at Madison Square Garden just three hours before tip-off with the New York Knicks after getting treated for a fractured bone in his jaw suffered against the Milwaukee Bucks the night before. Donning a black protective mask, and reportedly only getting four hours of sleep the night before, Irving could have been excused for having a sub-par game. Instead, Irving simply played the game of his life. Irving went 15-of-25 from the floor, including 5-of-8 from three, to notch a career-high 41 points--17 of which came in the fourth quarter. He also added five assists and five rebounds. The Cavaliers ended up dropping the game 103-102, but it certainly wasn't because of Irving's play.
1. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook Share Second Fiddle
It's great to play well against every opponent, but doing so against the reigning Western Conference Champion Oklahoma City Thunder just means more. Scoring 35 points, including 13 in the final 2:52, Irving made Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook take a backseat as he stole the headlines on February 2nd en route to a 113-108 Cavaliers win in Cleveland. Making his last five shots down the stretch with the entire Thunder team draped over him, Irving showed why he has earned the "Mr. Fourth Quarter" moniker.
Honorable Mention: "Uncle Drew: Chapter 2"
What's not to like about a Kyrie Irving-Kevin Love tandem, except of course, their ridiculous attempts at an old-man accent? I wonder if they had any time to talk on set? After all, turnabout is fair play.Adam Redling is a freelance writer from Cleveland, OH. He covers the Cavaliers for the Yahoo! Contributor Network.
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