In what might have been the best game we’ve seen in this NBA season and a potential Finals preview, the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the San Antonio Spurs 128-125 in overtime, thanks to a big game from LeBron James but a huge, historic one for Kyrie Irving.
Don’t let the combined 253 points fool you. We saw some good defense from both teams in this game. But Irving was on a different level, a special, unique and alien zone. Not just the 3-pointer to send the game into overtime. He made tough shots with one, two and three players in his face, hitting 20-of-32 from the field, 7-of-7 from beyond the arc and 10-of-10 from the line to score a franchise record 57 points and finish with 78% in true shooting.
Together with LeBron James, they combined to score 88 points. James hit two huge 3-pointers in overtime, including one that killed the game. Simply dribbling down Danny Green and then pulling back for the 3-pointer. The Spurs found it difficult to stop the Cavaliers from attacking the basket so they gave them a lot of space on their 3-point shots. They were punished with the Cavaliers making 14-of-26, even on a bad day from Kevin Love.
And that’s the scary thing about the Cavaliers. Obviously, we’re not going to see an 88-point game from James and Irving every time. And yet, even with Kevin Love having one of those games in which almost every shot he takes, open or contested, is a brick, causing David Blatt to go with a different approach and bench him during key moments, the Cavaliers look very difficult to stop on offense. Having immense individual talent always helps, but this team, through a rough start to this season, has gotten to a point where they’re quite efficient on offense.
The Spurs weren’t bad. They were very good to excellent for most of the game, but let the Cavaliers come back in the end of regulation due to being unable to stop Irving with his huge, difficult, impossible 3-point shots, and in overtime simply gave the Cavaliers too much space to shoot, afraid of getting attacked down low. It reminded me of the tactic that failed in game 7 of the 2013 NBA finals, with James and Wade killing the Spurs through jump shots.
Tony Parker led the Spurs with 31 points, Kawhi Leonard & Danny Green scored 24 each. Manu Ginobili played for only 10 minutes due to his stomach issues, scoring 0 points. Tim Duncan put up a nice stat line of 18 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 blocks but didn’t score a single point in overtime. The Cavaliers needed only James and Irving in the extra period, getting their 18 points from just the two of them, as their ‘hot hand’ reached extreme, ridiculous levels.
James scored 31 points to go with 5 rebounds and 7 assists, shooting 50% from the field and not struggling from the line like he has on too many occasions this season, hitting 8-of-10. The Spurs didn’t have an answer for him like they did in the first game or the NBA finals. This is a different team than the 2014 Miami Heat, and very different than the stuttering version we saw in the first couple of months this season.
The Cavaliers won’t get the number one seed in the East, but they’ve been playing the best basketball in the conference and probably the NBA for the last couple of months. Irving won’t be scoring 50-60 points on most nights, but it is his second game of 50 points or more this season, joining Rick Barry and LeBron James as the only players with multiple 50-point games before the age of 23. The Cavaliers, thanks to the adjustments around their stars, just might be finally fulfilling the prophecy of becoming the beat team in the NBA at the perfect time.