The Cleveland Cavaliers needed an all-time performance to beat the Golden State Warriors and force a Game 5. USA TODAY Sports
CLEVELAND – Kyrie Irving made his first two shots of Game 4, picking up where he left off in Game 3.
And when the Cleveland Cavaliers’ point guard gets his offense going like he did on Friday, there aren’t many more entertaining and enjoyable scorers to watch in the NBA.
Irving scored 28 of his game-high 40 points in the first half, following up his 38-point effort on Wednesday.
The difference in the two games? His performance in Game 4 led to Cleveland’s first victory of the Finals, a 137-116 triumph against the Golden State Warriors.
“He’s just been built for that moment,” Cavs star LeBron James said. “I said that over and over again – that he’s always been built for the biggest moments, and tonight he showed that once again. It’s not surprising. He’s just that special.”
In the first two games of the series, Golden State contained Irving, double-teaming him and forcing him to pass the basketball. The Warriors know James will generate points, but the Warriors do not want James and Irving beating them.
In Game 3, Irving and James combined for 77 points, but Cleveland failed to execute in the final three minutes, resulting in another loss.
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In Game 4, Irving and James combined for 71 points, and the Warriors again had trouble containing Irving, who made an array of difficult shots – inside and outside. He made 15-for-27 from the field, including 7-for-12 on three-pointers – an improvement over his 0-for-7 effort on threes in Game 3.
“The magnitude of the games, especially the last game, it hit me in a very deep place,” Irving said. “Just you want to play extremely well and you understand that’s a do-or-die game.”
When the Cavaliers play better defense and force Golden State misses, they can set up their offense, giving Irving room to display his offensive skills. His ball-handling combined with his shot-making make it tough for defenders. He can make shots at the rim with either hand, too.
When Golden State cut Cleveland’s lead to 115-104 in the fourth quarter, Irving connected on a three-pointer and a left-handed floater, putting the Cavaliers up 120-104 with 8:42 remaining.
“You look at Game 3 and those last probably four minutes 30 seconds, there was some opportunities that I didn’t take advantage of for us to just propel us to that win,” Irving said. “That stuck with me, and it definitely put a conscious effort to make sure that I stayed aggressive, especially in that fourth quarter down the stretch. And we had that separation in order for to us feel comfortable and then get the win.”
Irving, who hit the winning shot in Game 7 of last season’s Finals, said there was added motivation after seeing on social media that Golden State wanted to celebrate another championship in Cleveland’s home arena.
“We see everything. I’ll be sitting up here lying saying that I didn’t see it,” Irving said. “But I relish in that challenge. I know my teammates do as well. So, it’s been going back and forth all season, and now we’re in the Finals, and everything is just pinpointed. But definitely heard the chatter.”
And Irving is creating some chatter of his own with his brilliant play.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.