DANCING TO A DIFFERENT BEAT
“I see you. I see everyone. More than just your physical presence, I see your energy. I feel it. I know it.”
These were some of the words spoken by Kyrie, to the people at the Thanksgiving meal for the Boston Center for Youth & Families. I think it is safe to say Kyrie Irving has a different focus than most people. In interviews, there is a sense that he is on a completely different page than the reporters asking the questions. It makes for occasionally odd answers to simple questions. Most people write it off as weird, but he just might be on to something. After all, his focus has taken him to heights not many human beings can even fathom.
Still, Kyrie has been known to say some outlandish things. For instance, when he challenged the dimensions of the earth. Knowing Kyrie has never been afraid to challenge ideas and provoke thought, I wondered if there was an ulterior motive to his viewpoint.
“..literally the whole intent was just to open up for people to do their own research. That was the only intent. It wasn’t to, OK, let me figure out and go against science. Let me go against what I’ve been told and what’s right and all this stuff. It was just literally with the intent of just wake up and do your own research instead of actually assuming something that’s been told to you.” -Irving on Geno Auriemma’s podcast
After that conversation, I truly believe Kyrie just wanted to challenge something that was obviously against the grain. He wanted to stir things up, just to show people that it’s okay to question something. Further, his point is that it’s important to question everything by doing your own research. It’s actually a good lesson, albeit probably not the best way to get the message across. But that’s Kyrie, always wanting to be epic.
Speaking of epic, he’s done some amazing things on the court already in his young career. The dagger stepback 3 in game 7 of the 2016 Finals immediately comes to mind. This year for the Celtics, he’s become as good a closer as Isaiah Thomas was last season. That’s saying something considering IT earned the nickname, King In The Fourth, after averaging nearly 10 points in the 4th quarter alone. Kyrie is proving he can step up for the big moments at the end of the game, what he calls “winning time.”
And man, does he love to win. Kyrie’s clutch stats this season(+/- 5 in last 5 min) are elite. Despite falling outside the top 20 in total clutch time minutes, he is second only to old pal Lebron James, in both FGM & FGA in the clutch. He has shot just one less shot than Lebron, and has one less make, sitting at 26/43. That’s over 60% in clutch time minutes for Kyrie. Out of players with more than 15 attempts in clutch time, he is behind only Lebron & Dion Waiters by a hair. Also, the man with the highest FG% in clutch time (min 15 attempts) in teammate and ultra-impressive rookie, Jayson Tatum. Tatum is sitting at 63.2%. Jaylen Brown recently dubbed Kyrie, Mr. 4th Quarter, but Mr. Clutch might be more accurate.
KYRIE WINNING ON MVP LEVEL
I mentioned in a previous article that Kyrie is going to need to play at an MVP level for this team to do anything special this year; especially in the absence of Hayward. Not a month into the season, he was starting to get MVP chants in buildings across the league. In the Garden, they were still waiting for the right time. Kyrie has been great, but most Celtics fans would agree that Al Horford has been the real MVP of the Celtics this season.
Sensing the pressure to perform up to what mainstream media was ready to call him, an MVP candidate, Kyrie had his first takeover game against the Mavericks. He poured in 47 points in an OT game, in which every last one was needed. Since then, he has taken his game to another level, bringing up his shooting percentages, and improving his looks. Most importantly, he is taking over the game in the clutch, as discussed above. I hate to sound like a broken record, but what he is doing to close out games really can’t be overstated.
KYRIE BRINGS WHAT GAME NEEDS
My favorite quote about Kyrie was made by Brian Scalabrine. He said “Kyrie brings what the game needs.” This is true over the course of almost the entire game. If you ask me, it goes back to him saying he can feel energy. He just knows what he needs to infuse in the game, at any given time, to make his presence felt. It might be scoring 47 some nights, but it usually won’t be.
Most of the time, we see flashes throughout the game of his scoring. He times this perfectly, waiting to attack until the offense is sputtering a bit. Sensing this, he gets aggressive, and looks for his own shot to get the team back in the fight. He then falls back, tries to get his teammates involved, and waits for closing time to strike again.
We probably won’t see Kyrie completely dominate many games like he did against the Mavericks in the regular season. There will be times when he feels the need to be more aggressive, but he is showing he loves to play in the big moments, and almost waits for them to come around so he can take over. In the playoffs, every moment is big, so Kyrie will be playing up to match the moment.
Brad Stevens stated in a recent interview that, “basketball isn’t real pressure” when compared to real life. It’s a game, and that’s how he approaches it. He wants to win, but it’s not life or death. Kyrie epitomizes this. He doesn’t feel pressure on the court. It’s all fun and games for him, and he wants to have more fun than everybody. That’s where his clutch gene comes from– a genuine, fearless excitement in his approach to win basketball games. After his 47 point outburst against the Mavericks, in which he made some big plays down the stretch, Kyrie was feeling himself.
“I don’t want to say the NBA is like playing in the park, but to me…”
His voice trails off as he shrugs his shoulders. When you watch him play, you know he’s telling the truth. The court is Kyrie’s world, and if you aren’t on his team, you’re just in the way. Never fear, he’ll evade the entire defense when necessary, as well as he evades a poorly worded question post game.
CALM & CONFIDENT
It really is amazing how calm and confident Kyrie is in the clutch. As a fan, I feel confident when he has the ball late, and the fate of the game is in his hands. It makes you wonder if we’ve been looking at Kyrie, the man, all wrong. Maybe he has it together more than any of us. He knows the naysayers will always be around, so he doesn’t care about the media. He knows at the end of the day they’ll have their own story, far removed from the picture he would paint, if only he had the brush. It makes sense.
What doesn’t make sense is a person who has a life full of problems being so confident and free in their craft, especially in crunch time. On the contrary; I would say Kyrie derives his in-game confidence from the real-life confidence he has in himself and his beliefs. He doesn’t care if you doubt him, or disagree with him. That’s the point. It’s okay to think differently, to be your own person. That’s the picture he’s been trying to paint, with every move in his life.
He’s even willing to throw himself into the spotlight and take criticism, whether it be for challenging science, or himself taking a step into the unknown in his career, and leave what most thought was a picture perfect situation; for most, sure, but not for Kyrie Irving. He paves his own path, and he’s going to keep pushing forward until he reaches the end of the earth. Or arrives right back where he started, depending on how you look at it.