Kyrie Irving is a supernova blazing through the sky at unfathomable speeds.
He flashed right past the Celtics in Game 1 of the their first round, Eastern Conference playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, steamrolling the Celts to the tune of 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting, which included burying the first five 3-pointers he took. Irving’s starry performance, along with the Cavs’ dominance on the offensive glass, allowed LeBron James (20 points, 8-of-18 shooting) to hang back, pick his spots, and cruise through Cleveland’s 113-100 win.
Irving showed no sign of any nerves in his first career playoff game, doing his damage with a cool and exacting efficiency. The Celtics are not going to magically solve all the problems Cleveland can create for them just by slowing Irving down, but keeping him a lot more quiet than they were able to in Game 1 would go a long way toward making the series more competitive.
For starters, the Celtics must figure out a way to get the ball out of Irving’s hands more quickly. As per NBA.com SportVU stats, Irving shot 8-of-12 from the floor when he took 3-4 dribbles before unloading, including 3-of-3 from long distance. Conversely, he was just 3-of-9 when he took two dribbles or fewer before shooting and that’s all the evidence required to know that the Celts have to force him to shoot or pass as soon as possible.
If speeding him up requires more double-teams, it’s certainly worth a try. The Celtics got caught underneath some pick-and-rolls facilitated by Irving on Sunday, and that’s death when trying to contain such a speedy, fluid ball handler. One way to combat this is to have a help defender nearby who isn’t too far away from being able switch smoothly if Irving is forced to pass out of the double. The Celtics will have to be very careful about whom they’re doubling off of should they take this tack (leaving James alone, for example, just might defeat the purpose of paying extra attention to Irving) especially considering how loaded with shooters the Cavs are.
After that, the Celtics can look to chance as a potential savior. Among Irving’s 11 made shots in Game 1, more than a couple were of the “are you kidding me?” variety. “Kyrie, I thought we defended really well on some shots he just hit,” coach Brad Stevens told the media after the game. He was right. I mean, look at this.
His buzzer beater was pretty ridiculous too. The Celtics are simply outmatched from a talent perspective in this series, susceptible to being beaten from a handful of different sources. Even if they do manage to slow down Irving, there’s J.R. Smith, who can go heat check crazy at the drop of a hat, over there and Kevin Love filling it up either in the post or from deep over there and Timofey Mozgov, who towers over almost everyone the Celts can throw at him, over there and oh yeah, the greatest player on the planet in LeBron right over there.
But you have to start somewhere. And after the flaming path of destruction he wrought in Game 1, Irving is as good a place as any.