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For a Night, Kyrie Irving Was Cleveland’s Best Player

A celebration of Cleveland’s most poetic player and his stunning, indestructible Game 4 performance

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

If Kyrie Irving was going to shut the casket on Game 4, he was going to make it look sexy:

These are the plays that turn casual spectators into zealots, the kind of plays that melt reason. These are the plays that defined Tuesday’s wild night that culminated in a 112–99 Cavaliers victory. Cleveland is now one win away from locking in the Trilogy.

Kyrie is capable of such poetry in his motions that he can temporarily have you erasing history. Irving is so committed to his choreography that he damn near threw his back out on this behind-the-back fake (and poor Jae Crowder, who was already having a rough night on defense, bit so hard he saw his mind dislodge from his body from the third perspective). Of course, on a night like this, Irving proved to be practically indestructible. Kyrie tweaked his ankle on a drive when his legs got caught up in Terry Rozier’s with less than two minutes to go in the third quarter. It looked like nature had once again threatened to turn the lights off on one of our most dynamic offensive players this offseason. (Of course Irving made the layup on the play — his 11th point in the quarter alone.) He writhed in pain, we all gasped in horror, and then, 19 seconds later, it’s as if the entire sports-viewing public wasn’t just subjected to a true basketball tragedy — the prospect of a Kyrie-less Cavs in the Finals:

Nothing happened. Nothing changed. Kyrie was still on the floor, and he was still getting buckets. Like I said, when Irving’s in this zone, histories real and imagined crumble. Anything is possible. Maybe the earth is flat, Kyrie. Whatever. Thank you. Just stay in this groove forever. Irving finished the game with a new playoff-career-high 42 points on truly absurd 68.2 percent shooting from the field, including 21 points (on 9-of-11 shooting!) in the third quarter.

Of course, Irving wasn’t flexing just to flex. He was trying to instill order in a game that had veered into Twilight Zone territory: LeBron James logged four fouls in the first half; the Celtics’ balanced attack on both ends of the floor seemed to dictate the flow of the game, and Marcus Smart, Boston’s dutiful agent of chaos, banked a 3 straight in LeBron’s face with just over seven minutes remaining in the third quarter — it was his only field goal of the game. Much of the game had an off-kilter vibe, reminiscent of past playoff series: LeBron’s biomechanics were misaligned for three quarters, like they were in 2011; the Celtics were evoking the randomness of their 2012 selves. It was fun. It felt like playoff basketball again.

Irving was also the buffer. LeBron, in the midst of one of his most impressive postseasons ever, wasn’t just going to bow out — he finished with 34 points on 55.6 percent shooting. Kevin Love set a new playoff career high in rebounds with 17, dominating the defensive glass against a hapless Boston front line. Suddenly everyone on the Cavs began seeing reflections of their old selves. By the end of the game, Cleveland had the three best players on the court, but for a night, the order of operations was slightly rearranged.