Game Breakdown: Kyrie Irving, 1/31, Brooklyn Nets v Chicago Bulls
Updated: Mar 22, 2020
Kyrie Irving has had a hot-and-cold season, to put it lightly. In a year where he only played 20 games for the eventual seven seeded Brooklyn Nets, the Nets actually had a better winning percentage with Irving out in street clothes than when he was sporting his No.11 in Brooklyn black, white and grey.
His season wasn't only doom and gloom, however. When Kyrie was available, he put up career best numbers, averaging 27 points, 5.2 rebounds, and shot 92% from the charity stripe. His efficiency wasn't exactly on par with his tumultuous two season stint in Boston, but 48% shooting and 40% from deep isn't too shabby either. Not to mention in only 20 games, only 11 at home, he was able to set the Barclays center scoring record, twice!
Today, we'll be looking at the second of those two instances, his 54 point outburst again the Chicago Bulls. I’ve selected clips from that night that shed a light on Irving’s understated abilities.
At first, this clip may simply seem to be a Taurean Prince isolation. Once you look closely, the reason Prince was able to blow by his defender and then use his momentum to create an open layup was because the much taller, slower center Luke Kornet was matched up against him.
As you can see in the first second of this clip, Kornet is initially matched up with Brooklyn's center, Jarrett Allen. The ball handler, Irving, receives a double screen from both Prince and Allen. Irving's elite talent as a pick and roll ball handler forces the Bulls to blitz the screen with two defenders, Hutchinson and Young. Irving notices the double team, and kicks the ball out to Prince quickly. Jarrett Allen makes a cut into Thaddeus Young, forcing the slower Kornet to switch onto Prince. Prince can now use that switch to take Kornet off the bounce and expose his lousy on-ball defense.
There is something to be said for Kyrie Irving's exceptional shooting from deep, especially from the right wing. He's hit perhaps the most clutch shot of all time from that spot, for Cleveland in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
This year, a clutch shot over R.J. Barrett and the cross-town rival Knicks in that right wing comes to mind, and another one against James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and the Houston Rockets. The Bulls neutralize another double screen for Irving by double-teaming Irving. However, Kornet retreats after Thaddeus Young has to pick up his man leaving Taurean Prince open in the corner. This leaves Irving alone in a one-on-one situation with Shaq Harrison, an astute defender. But when Kyrie Irving is locked in and focused, there isn't much even the best defenders can do when you combine his shot making and dribble moves. Irving easily side-steps for a fall-away three that not only swishes through the net, but ignites the Barclays Center crowd.
Kyrie Irving isn't an All-NBA defensive guard, or anything close to it. Many would consider it his greatest liability, and they aren't completely wrong. Irving was once an atrocious defender, and still can be some nights. These struggles on the defensive end can be equated to a lack of effort, which isn't uncommon for offensive superstars such as Irving, who have a real load to carry on the other end.
One guard who used to receive similar criticism is James Harden, especially around the 2014-16 seasons. In Harden's case, the lowlights are endless. Recently, however, Harden has become one of the premier post defenders in the NBA, because of his build and an increase in effort. In the clip above, North Carolina product Coby White challenges Kyrie in isolation, and Irving does a very good job of shuffling his feet, sticking with the rook and forcing the turnover.
In the last clip, Irving showed his ability to slide his feet and stick with his man. In this one, he uses his hands to poke the ball out of Satoransky's hands with seconds left in the half, and of course, drains the long ball. This play should come to no surprise since Irving has averaged about 1.5 steals for his career and can deliver some of the crispiest passes around. Once again, Irving nails a right wing three pointer, giving his team some much needed momentum to end the first half and the fans the best first half they could've asked for.
Here, Kyrie Irving shows incredible poise, control and finesse to weave through an underrated Chicago defense. The Bulls are the only non-playoff team to have an above average defense, which is Jim Boylen's strong suit. The Nets ball movement leaves LeVert unattended as he opts to drive. Off of good baseline penetration, Levert is able to kick the ball to Irving. LaVine closes out with his hand out somewhat lazily, allowing Irving to dribble in. Coby White meets him at the free throw line, but his momentum is taking him away from the basket. White considers taking a charge for a split second but realizes he's too far from the rim. Irving, still under control is able to swerve around White and finish around the larger Felicio.