VIDEO: Kyrie Irving cooked every defender the Warriors threw at him
It felt as though he was channeling J.R. Smith's "open shots are boring" mantra.
The Cleveland Cavaliers needed two big performances in order to extend their season and force a Game 6 at home. They got one from their main superstar in LeBron James with 41 points, 16 rebounds, and seven assists in the Cavs' Game 5 victory over the Golden State Warriors. However impressive that line looks, it wouldn't have done Cleveland any good if he didn't have a partner in crime on Monday night, helping him burn the Warriors' defense play after play.
Kyrie Irving played the perfect sidekick, contributing 41 points on 17-of-24 shooting and 5-of-7 from 3-point range. Irving was as hot as you can imagine a scorer getting, and it didn't matter at any point in the night if the Warriors had defended him poorly or defended him well. It didn't matter if the Warriors got a had in his face or let him think about shooting a wide-open jumper. Irving didn't seem like he could miss.
The Warriors tried a lot of different defenders on Irving and they all seemed to get cooked. Part of that was the absence of Draymond Green, and certainly the loss of Andrew Bogut early in the second half. But Irving was still taking it to Golden State when it played good defense on him. Klay Thompson couldn't stop him. Stephen Curry got outplayed by him. Harrison Barnes couldn't use his size to bother him. And even the rare moments Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala got a turn, they couldn't get Irving off his game either.
"Kyrie was great tonight and had my number," Thompson said after the game. "Hit some tough shots, but there's nothing you can do about it. Sometimes you put your hand up and it just goes in."
Those tough shots were probably the most demoralizing part of the night for the Warriors defense. NBA.com/stats clocked Irving in at 7-of-10 on uncontested shots and 10-of-14 on contested shots. When he's hitting uncontested shots, the Warriors can look at the film, recognize the breakdown in the defensive possession and figure out how to fix it next time. When he's hitting contested shots on you like that, there's not a lot you can do.
Kyrie Irving cooking Klay Thompson
Kyrie seemed to hit the majority of these tough shots against Thompson. The Warriors like putting Thompson on volume scoring point guards because he's quick enough to stay with them side-to-side, and if he does get beat, he can often use his size and strength to his advantage to recover and contest the shot. He did that a lot in Game 5, but it never really mattered. When Klay admitted after the game that Irving had his number, he was dead-on.
This first contested shot he hit against Thompson was pretty good defense. He stuck around on the crossover move initially, and then when Irving went toward the baseline, Klay cut him off before he could get to the paint while still keeping a hand high to contest the shot attempt. Irving uses a little bit of an off-arm to steady himself as he goes up for the shot, but he's hitting a fading baseline jumper in that middle zone that can be so tough for most players.
In what ended up being an 11-point second quarter for Irving, he helped the Cavs get out to a 7-0 run in the period by scoring five quick points. He ended up scoring nine straight points for the Cavs over a four-minute stretch, and it all began with him doing to Klay what Klay usually does to his opponents. With the threat of an attack off the dribble coming, he had Thompson on his heels. Once Klay had shifted his weight toward the rim, Kyrie rose up quickly and fired a 3-pointer with 18 seconds on the shot clock.
These types of quick shots can be dangerous, and at the time (in real time), you'd question the quality of the shot. Looking back on his performance for the entirety of Game 5, it was just Kyrie showing off he was in rhythm and everybody else was in for a long night.
The end of that run of nine straight points by Irving came on this filthy display of shot-making against Klay. Kyrie basically puts two or three moves on Thompson and never manages to lose him. There's a jab step followed by a direct step that Thompson smothers. He doesn't really create much space, if any, against the half spin. Then Thompson is all over the step-back jumper from about 19 feet.
None of that defense ends up mattering as the Cavs retake the lead.
You watch some of these plays and you just wonder what Klay is supposed to do. There's nothing really he can do. The Cavs tried to force a quick switch to Steph Curry. All that happens is the MVP orbits Irving a bit, gets behind him and allows Thompson to recover from the slipped Iman Shumpert screen. Irving looks like a running back desperate to find a hole somewhere on the goal line, only to come up empty. He can't really body Klay at all because he's not strong enough.
So instead, Irving just manages to get barely enough space to fade away from the defender, while banking in a short jumper just inside the paint. This is an absurd level of shot-making against one of the best defensive shooting guards in the league. Again, this is all very good defense and Irving is making it look like a revolving door.
Then we get an even more preposterous version of this play. This time, they still can't get the Curry-Thompson switch to happen, so Kyrie is forced to attack Klay once again. Instead of attacking toward the baseline, he goes middle. He also slips just above the free-throw line, but channels his inner Curly Neal to cross over back to his left before planting, spinning and knocking down a cold fadeaway over Thompson from around the free-throw line.
There was still plenty of time in the game for the Warriors to come back, but that shot may have broken any chance at making this a game. It pushed the lead to 10 and the Cavs never really had to look back.
"I mean, he's a phenomenal player, especially on the offensive end, so it obviously stings," Thompson admitted. "And you watch the film and see what you can do better, but you don't let it deflate you for Thursday. You play the same hard-nosed defense and try to make them take the same contested shots.
"Give Kyrie credit, he was hitting tough floaters, turnarounds, and he just had a great game."
Klay Thompson tried. It just didn't matter.
Kyrie Irving cooking Stephen Curry
Klay Thompson wasn't the only one on the menu for Kyrie. Steph Curry was also cooked a couple of times on tough shots that can only leave the Warriors shaking their heads. Irving hit two tough shots on Curry with both of them coming in a 12-point fourth. Kyrie nearly matched the entire Warriors team (13 points) in the final quarter as the Cavs put this one to bed.
The first shot came when Kevin Love set a screen on Curry, and he spun off of it as he went under the pick. He actually recovers decently to get in front of Irving, but lets Kyrie turn the corner on him after initial resistance. Instead of challenging Anderson Varejao at the rim, Irving pulls up and shoots a contested jumper over Curry, which the MVP has no chance of stopping.
The shot he hit with 6:20 left in the fourth quarter to extend the lead to eight (before that shot against Klay that extended it to 10) is all kinds of unfair. Curry doesn't fall for any of the Irving handle display and forces him toward the baseline like you're supposed to do. As Harrison Barnes is rotating over, Irving rises up off the right foot while fading toward the baseline. He banks in the off-balance runner over Curry and Barnes.
This is good defense. He made it look like nobody was there. He made it look like a Yi Jianlin pre-draft workout. He turned Curry into a folding chair, despite Curry actually defending the play really well.
"So over the course of this series we've done a pretty good job of containing them," Curry said, "and trying to force them into tough spots on the floor. Tonight they kind of overcame that."
Curry played some solid defense at times against Irving. It just didn't matter.
Kyrie Irving cooking the rest of the Warriors
The Splash Brothers weren't the only guys getting destroyed by Kyrie while playing good-to-great defense on these tough, contested shots. Other players got roasted as well.
On a hesitation dribble, Irving got Shaun Livingston off-balance, backpedaling and hit a pull-up jumper over those outstretched arms. Livingston's size and wingspan is supposed to give him the advantage in these situations, but not here.
Remember that huge dunk by Livingston when he baptized Richard Jefferson? Normally, that would be the type of play that galvanizes a unit and gets them to go on a run. That's not what happened for the Warriors. Any chance of harnessing that energy into overwhelming basketball was squashed right away by Irving.
He brought the ball right up the floor following the dunk, had Harrison Barnes match up with him and then put a move on him that left him defenseless. The pull-back crossover he uses on Barnes is tight, compact and effective in getting Barnes completely out of position to contest the jumper. Instead, he knocks it down cold and quells the possibility of the Livingston dunk becoming a moment for the Warriors.
Another time in which Barnes was matched up against Irving saw much better defense but the same result. Barnes and Livingston switch on a pick-and-roll. Kyrie uses his quick first step to turn the corner on Barnes and get him on his back shoulder. Before Barnes can recover to properly contest the shot, Irving is already using his ridiculous body control to absorb any contact and let the floater fly off the glass.
There's nothing Barnes can do there.
Then the capper on the night came with a 10-point lead and about 5:40 left in the game. Irving was going to attack quickly in transition, and he was feeling it beyond belief. He took a page out of Curry's book to give a little distraction with the handle before he gathered himself and rose up over the defender. That defender was Andre Iguodala, who usually can anticipate any situation and get a good contest on a shot if he doesn't stop the attempt completely.
By the time Iguodala has closed in on the shot, it's out of Irving's hands and he knocks down a pull-up 3-pointer in transition.
Contested shots or not, there would be no denying Irving in Game 5. Will this offensive assault continue in Game 6? Stay tuned.
CBS Sports HQ Daily Newsletter
Get the best highlights and stories - yeah, just the good stuff handpicked by our team to start your day.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox for the latest sports news.
There was an error processing your subscription.
Brad Botkin points to Los Angeles' track record to break down the Lakers' current state of...
Khris Middleton has officially opted out of his deal with the Milwaukee Bucks
Also, the Sixers might not be far off, and Giannis Antetokounmpo needs to improve his shot
Memphis has reportedly traded its longtime franchise star, who was with the team since being...
The Grizzlies acquiring the No. 23 pick from the Jazz in the Mike Conley trade won't be the...
Meanwhile, could the Cavs move either Kevin Love or the No. 5 pick for multiple picks in r...