Kyrie Irving set his career high in scoring (57 points) on March 12, 2015. I remember the game vividly, because (a) it happened against my beloved Spurs, (b) it ended up being one of the most entertaining games of the season, if not THE most entertaining nonplayoff game of the season (the Cavs won despite being down 10 with under three minutes to go and down six with 33 seconds to go), and (c) more than it just being a game when Kyrie scored a lot of points, it was a game when Kyrie scored a lot of meaningful points (including a 3 at the buzzer to send the game to overtime) in ways that were both exhilarating and representative. Consider his layup at a little over eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the Cavs down 90-86.
Kyrie brought the ball up the court, waited for the beginning of a pick from Tristan Thompson at the 3-point line, dribbled behind his back, used the threat of the pick to make his defender (Marco Belinelli) think he was going one way, did a half-spin move, then cut back in the opposite direction of Thompson’s pick. When Belinelli tried to reverse course, Kyrie, in a flash, crossed back in the original direction and headed toward Thompson’s pick. Look at poor Belinelli, who, in terms of basketball distance, is in a whole different ZIP code than Kyrie by the time Kyrie is done with him:
Tiago Splitter, who was guarding Thompson, tried to squeeze the space between himself and Thompson, which he knew Kyrie was going to try to wiggle through — but Kyrie is a shapeshifter, so he just flattened his entire being out and slid past him. Here’s a good shot of the moment:
There’s no room for Kyrie there, and still: It didn’t matter. He fit through it, impossibly, beautifully, perfectly, like the basketball version of that scene they always do in action movies where someone slides underneath a closing door with only millimeters to spare, or the basketball version of that clip of the octopus escaping from the boat through the very tiny crack in the wall.
After navigating through the death trap that Tiago had tried to set, Kyrie focused on Danny Green, the last remaining defender between him and the rim. He sniffed out that Green had anticipated him going right, so Kyrie obliged him, leaning in that direction to make Green think he’d guessed correctly. As soon as Green planted his foot, though, Kyrie Eurostepped around him to his left, forcing Green to twist his body, allowing Kyrie juuuuuuust enough room to create a 1 degree angle to get past him.
Same as he did with Tiago and Belinelli, Kyrie took advantage, jumping into the chest of the taller, bigger, stronger Green to neutralize his shot-blocking ability. Kyrie, while in the air, switched the ball to his off hand, then kissed it up off the glass, his body falling one way, Green’s body the other. The ball dropped in, Kyrie picked himself up off the court, Kevin Harlan, one of the very best basketball announcers on the planet, excitedly shouted, “OHHHHHHHH! WHAT A PLAY BY IRVING! HE GIVES YOU A MOVE WITH EVERY PART OF HIS BODY!” and everyone in the stadium was left trying to figure out what the fuck had just happened. Here’s all of it as it happened:
The whole play — all eight of the moves Kyrie had strung together — lasted just five seconds, which is simultaneously both an incredible thing and also an extremely Kyrie Irving thing. He’s a master at that sort of play: the Impossible Layup, if you’d like to give it a name. And that’s what I meant earlier when I said that he scored that game in ways that were “representative,” because he utilized basically every kind of scoring trick that he carries around with him in his bag of terror and destruction. If someone asked to see only one single game that highlighted all of the ways that Kyrie Irving could basketball-kill you, it’d be the March 2015 game against the Spurs.
He had the Impossible Layup, which he activates only in the most pressing of circumstances. He had the Lefty Floater after getting into the lane (3:38 to go in the first quarter). He had the Difficult Layup, a less miraculous version of the Impossible Layup (with 1:57 to go in the first quarter, he crossed over Tony Parker at the top of the 3-point line, got into the lane, Eurostepped around Splitter, then laid it up with his left hand). He had the Pull-up Jumper, a thing he does when someone is expecting him to do something wild or crazy and so he does the most normal, basic thing in his arsenal (6:50, second quarter). He had the Going the Wrong Way With the Wrong Hand Shot, where he’s falling to his left and, rather than use his left hand, he goes against the grain of gravity and lofts the ball up with his right hand instead (3:59, second quarter). He had the And-1 Layup (this is one of my favorite Kyrie moves because it always looks like his strength catches his defender by surprise). He had the 3-Point Flourish (3:07, second quarter), which is when, right before shooting a 3, he does some sort of evasive dribbling maneuver to vanish a defender.
He did the You’re Gonna Take This and Like It Layup (0:38, second quarter), where, after getting his shoulder in front of his defender, rather than speed off away from him, he goes slower to the rim, the defender helpless to do anything other than run alongside him. He did the Tries to Draw a Foul 3, a move where, after coming off a pick, he stops instantly, raises up, then shoots while spreading out his arms and legs, hoping to draw a foul. (He did this to Tony Parker with 7:26 to go in the third quarter and somehow still managed to make the shot.) (One of my favorite subplots of this game was that Kyrie, who seems to have an endless amount of moves and shots, found himself pitted against Parker, who leans totally the other way in that particular discussion, opting to score in the most efficient way possible. It was like watching dueling kung fu masters fighting against each other with opposing styles. I love that kind of thing.) (Also, since we’re here, let me mention that he did the Tries to Draw a Foul 3 again with 6:04 left in the fourth quarter, except that time he was able to draw the foul on Danny Green.)
There was the time he did the Start the Drive, Hesitate to Throw the Defense Out of Whack, Then Finish the Drive Layup (56.2 seconds left in the third quarter). There was the time he did the Full-Speed Attack Layup, where he just hauls it as fast as he can up the court and turns whoever happens to be standing in front of the rim into an embarrassment pretzel (he did it to Tiago at the 8:38 mark of the fourth quarter; poor Tiago; watching Tiago try to stop Kyrie was like watching a rhino try to solve a Rubik’s Cube). There was the time he did the Rebound Putback While Being Fouled Thing (56.2, fourth quarter), and the time he did the Pump Fake 3 (32.7, fourth quarter), and the time he did the Buzzer-Beater Very Contested 3 (00.0, fourth quarter). (And since we’re here, let me mention that Kyrie was 10-for-10 from the free throw line and 7-for-7 from 3, two things that made me super fucking mad the night of the game.) (There’s seriously nothing more infuriating than a player catching fire against your team and you just have to sit there and watch him burn the city down.)
Kyrie scored 11 more points in overtime, and continued to do so in innovative ways against all measure of defenders (he scored on Boris Diaw, who was bad at defending guards on the perimeter; on Parker, who was then a decent defender; on Green, a very good defender; and Kawhi Leonard, who would go on to win his second Defensive Player of the Year award later that season). Kyrie was a menace on the Cavs. Kyrie is a menace on the Celtics. Nobody can score in more ways than him.