Latest posts by Sam Amico (see all)
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When the Cavaliers drafted Kyrie Irving in 2011, I didn’t exactly map out plans to cover the NBA Finals.
Irving seemed like a nice point guard, a kid who could handle the ball with a good outside shot, but a little questionable on defense.
He did look like the best player in that particular draft, though, and then-general manager Chris Grant made the right choice with the No. 1 overall pick.
So everyone considered Irving a fine player — but not many seemed to consider him a big winner.
It may be time to rethink that.
Irving struck gold as a member of the U.S. Olympic basketball team Sunday, when the Americans downed Serbia 96-66 in Rio de Janeiro.
This after Irving won a championship with the Cavaliers in June.
In the finals, Irving made the biggest 3-pointer of the season, then created the biggest almost-assist when he passed to LeBron James for a monster almost-dunk.
Irving’s three gave the Cavs a three-point lead. James was fouled on the dunk attempt, and his free throw extended it to four with 10.6 seconds left.
Game, set, first title in franchise history.
And Irving truly was Mr. Fourth Quarter, outplaying Warriors guard and two-time MVP Steph Curry on his own home floor in the season’s most meaningful moments.
It was Irving who hit the final basket, it was Irving who controlled the game, it was Curry who failed to get around the Cavs’ swarm of taller defenders.
Some people wouldn’t have believed it possible back in 2011.
Irving barely played his lone college season at Duke, a toe injury keeping him on the bench.
He gained a reputation earlier in his career as being injury-prone. Last season, he was coming off knee surgery and his game looked clunky at the start. But if there’s one thing we’re learning about Irving, it’s that he knows how to finish at winning time.
All this and he’s still just 24 years old.
It’s true that his real success didn’t come until James returned to the Cavs, until Kevin Love arrived in a trade, until Tristan Thompson (drafted fourth in 2011) morphed into an energy big man.
GM David Griffin also played a major role by bringing in older locker-room voices.
So for Irving, it didn’t happen until a team was built around him. But guess what? Welcome to the NBA. No one does it alone — at least not when the idea is winning championships.
With Team USA, Irving got to play alongside the likes of Kevin Durant, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. All are accomplished pros.
Still, just like the Cavs, it’s clear the Americans needed Irving.
He’s not a throwback point guard, holding up his fist, calling out plays and patiently making sure everyone is in their proper place.
Irving is much more likely to drive and score in traffic with dazzling moves at the hoop — or drive and kick if the first option doesn’t work.
That’s not to say he’s selfish. Just the opposite. He knows how to play next to other stars. Mostly, he’s just good.
How’s that for expert analysis?
But when it comes to Irving, there’s really no other way to spin it. Some guys just got it, and he’s one.
Only James, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen had won a gold medal and an NBA championship in the same year. Irving is on that list now, too.
It’s a pretty good list. It’s a list full of big-time winners.
Irving belongs there, and here’s the thing: He may be just getting started.