Kyrie Irving: Ball movement, defensive effort keys to Cleveland Cavaliers' postseason success
CLEVELAND -- Two days removed from setting a new single-game career postseason high with 10 assists, Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving put on an 11-assist performance in a 125-103 victory over the Toronto Raptors in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Quicken Loans Arena Wednesday.
As the Cavaliers look to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series with tonight’s Game 3 matchup at the Air Canada Centre, Irving knows that continuing to play at an intense pace on both sides of the floor will be beneficial to Cleveland’s efforts north of the border.
“When we become stagnant, we’re a different team,” Irving said. “When we’re playing at a high pace and high energy, the ball seems to hop and it finds the open shooter every, single time. The selflessness just starts to go throughout the team, and we all start to feel really good.
“When myself and ‘Bron, when we’re attacking consistently every, single time down putting pressure on the defense, we’re going to get our teammates open shots. If the defense doesn’t respect us collapsing them all in, then we’re going to score. We just play the game the right way, and we try to do that on a consistent level.”
Despite making just six of his 19 attempts from the field, Irving buried three three-pointers and all seven of his free throws for 22 points in Game 2. Additionally, Irving reset his personal single-game mark with 11 assists in just 30 minutes.
As a team, the Cavaliers sunk 18 of their 33 looks from three-point range (54.5 percent) in the Game 2 win.
“I think that we were just playing the game the right way, making the ball swing,” Irving said. “It happened to find some great shooters on our team.
“Some of them were tough, but when we start off the game hitting from the three-point line, we feel pretty good. When guys aren’t hesitant about shooting the basketball, we’re a good team as well. It’s not going to be like that every night, but when it is, it becomes one of those nights for us.”
Known primarily for his shooting and passing abilities, Irving credited the Cavaliers’ efforts on defense for jump-starting the offense.
In the Game 2 win, the Cavaliers stole nine passes, forced 13 turnovers and blocked four shots. That production came on the heels of the Cavaliers stealing eight passes, forcing 12 turnovers and blocking four shots in the Game 1 victory.
And that is the kind of effort Irving believes it will take for the Cavaliers to put the Raptors away and make their third straight trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.
“It’s the playoffs,” Irving said. “As much as we don’t want to make excuses of the regular season of us not being as dialed in as we can on the defensive end, when you get a chance to watch film on a team, focus on specific plays and be able to finally show your hand with what you’re going to do defensively and limit them on a game-to-game basis, we’re a better team.
“And in the playoffs, we’re showing that. We’re executing on the defensive end at a very high level, but it doesn’t stop here. We’ve just got continue it and make sure that we have that consistent effort going into Game 3.”