CLEVELAND, Ohio — Scribbles in my Cleveland Cavaliers notebook, still enjoying Sunday’s 109-108 victory over the Golden State Warriors:
1. When the Cavaliers needed a game-winning shot against Golden State, they set up a play for Kyrie Irving to take it. Remember, this is a team led by LeBron James. But Irving keeps growing as a player and as Kevin Love said, “He’s our go-to guy in the fourth quarter.”
2. This is not saying Irving is the Cavs’ best player. It’s James. No one in the NBA is quite like LeBron James in terms of impacting every aspect of the game. Nor does it mean James should be the second option in clutch situations. But it does underline the fact … once again … that James doesn’t have to carry the huge load as he did early in his career. James had a brilliant game in the victory, scoring 31 points to go with 13 rebounds and 4 assists.
3. Irving hit the Cavs version of The Shot to help beat Golden State, 93-89, in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals. And then he hit another shot — this one with 3.4 seconds left — to give the Cavs a 109-108 victory Sunday over the Warriors.
4. James on Irving: “The kid is special.” Of course, Irving is no longer quite a kid in NBA terms. This is his sixth pro season, even though he’s only 24. Cavs fans have been watching him grow first into a star, then a scorer … now a winning player.
5. The Cavs had the ball with 14 seconds left. Lue decided to put the ball in the hands of Irving, allowing him to dribble up the court. Iman Shumpert or Tristan Thompson had the option of setting a screen for him, but Irving had other ideas. He was defended by Klay Thompson. He went straight to the rim, and Klay Thompson cut him off about 10 feet from the basket. That’s when Irving swished the turnaround jumper, fading away.
6. Klay Thompson and Irving both called it a “tough shot.” So was the 3-pointer Irving drilled in Game 7. James told the media about a step-back jumper in another game that Irving swished over a much taller Draymond Green.
7. “It means a lot that they trust me with that shot to go full court,” said Irving. “It’s fun to have the trust of your teammates and coaching staff.”
8. The respect for Irving among his teammates and coaches is soaring. Coach Tyronn Lue called Irving “a killer on the court, he lives for that moment” in clutch situations. Then Lue made an excellent point about Irving’s improved defense. Irving had seven steals against Golden State. He had six in Friday’s victory over Brooklyn, giving him 13 steals in the last two games.
9. The Cavs shot a dismal 39 percent from the field, but still beat Golden State. But Golden State made 20 turnovers, and those became 21 points for the Cavs. The Cavs also out-rebounded the Warriors, 44-42. The Warriors shot only 9-of-30 (30 percent) on 3-pointers.
10. Or how about this, in the final 9:40 of the game, Irving had as many points (14) as the entire Warriors team. Irving was hot, and the Cavs defense was strong. That’s how you win playoff games — or big games like this. In the final seven minutes of the game, James switched from defending Kevin Durant to Klay Thompson — and held Thompson scoreless.
11. Kevin Durant scored with 9:34 left to give the Warriors a 94-80 lead. That was his last field goal of the game. He made three free throws in the final nine minutes, his only points when the Warriors were falling apart. They made six turnovers in the fourth quarter.
12. Richard Jefferson defended Durant in the final nine minutes, out-scoring the Warriors star, 6-0.
13. Durant obviously is a great player. He finished with 36 points and 15 rebounds, both game highs. The Warriors are 27-5 this season, the best record in the NBA. But under pressure in Cleveland on Christmas day, their offense stalled. Curry seemed to wander around the perimeter. Thompson couldn’t get off a shot against James. Durant was having a 36-year-old Jefferson dunk on him. It was so much fun for Cavs fans.
14. We all know it’s a long time between now and June. And we know the Warriors should continue to grow together as a team, unless the four stars can’t seem to align quite right. The Big Four are Durant, Curry, Thompson and Green.
15. When the Warriors were outscored, 29-14, in the final 9:34, Green led them with six points. Curry had five, Durant had three.
16. Durant may have been fouled by Jefferson on the final play of the game when their feet were tangled up. But you rarely see that called in a clutch situation. Besides, Durant and the Warriors put themselves in the hands of the officials by their poor performance down the stretch.
17. Irving outplayed Curry in The Finals. The Cavs guard averaged 27 points, shooting .468 from the field in those games. Curry was at 22.6 points, shooting .403. But player were at .405 from 3-point range.
18. In Game 7 of the 2016 Finals, Curry scored an ugly 17 points on 6-of-19 shooting with four turnovers. Irving scored 26 points in Game 7. He then outscored Curry, 27-15, on Christmas.
19. It’s interesting that Curry was not the first option for Golden State’s final shot, it was Durant. Curry was on the court for the final play of the game after the Warriors called timeout with 3.4 seconds left. But Curry was on the bench on the previous possession. That was when Irving scored what proved to be the game-winner. Curry was pulled for his lack of defense.
20. It’s a shame these two teams play only once more in the regular season. It will be January 16 in Oakland.