CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving faced plenty of questions and criticism of his playmaking abilities following his Game 4 performance against the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs.
But Irving had the perfect answer, as after a zero-assist showing in that Game 4 win, he averaged 8.5 assists in a four-game sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, including two double-digit assist performances.
“Just understanding that my effect on the game doesn’t necessarily have to be shooting the ball all the time,” Irving said. “(I’m) just growing with the team that I’ve been a part of. It’s definitely been picked apart since I’ve come into the league.
“For me, personally, I’ve just always felt like taking over the game came from just literally putting the team on my back and going out there and trying to score as many baskets as possible, but there are so many more facets of the game that you can be better at, understanding that it could be being effective on the defensive end, as well as coming off screens and giving yourself up and sacrificing yourself to get an even better shot for one of your teammates.”
Irving said he has learned the importance of setting up teammates from watching small forward LeBron James.
“Being with great players, as well as one of the guys that has an understanding of how to control the game with LeBron, he just gives himself up,” Irving said.
“He’ll drive one way or drive another way and he’ll make a pass that probably no one else saw. Of course, you watch other great point guards that have come before me, I’m just trying to continue to get better at that aspect of the game.”
In Game 4, James led the way with 35 points to go along with nine rebounds, six assists and a blocked shot. Additionally, Irving scored 27 points on 10-of-24 shooting to go along with nine assists, five rebounds and four steals.
The Cavaliers got double-digit efforts from guard Kyle Korver (18 points) and forward Channing Frye (10) off the bench. Korver knocked down four of his six looks from three-point range, while Frye buried two of his three attempts from long distance.
“When you start breaking down a lot of the film, I definitely have been blessed to be able to get to the rim and finish around almost anybody,” Irving said. “Being able to shoot and create space to get a jump shot off, whether it be the mid-range or the three-point shot, I know myself.
“I’m a tough shot maker. I know I could do that, but in order to get an even better shot and trust that your teammates will be able to get to a spot where you can see an opening or you can open up an opportunity for him, it just changes the flow of the game. You get out in transition and play with the pace I play with, being able to get guys open shots, it feels good, and they feel good about it.”