CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Cavaliers are once again champions of the Eastern Conference after finishing off the Boston Celtics with a 135-102 win in Game 5 at TD Garden Thursday night, but despite being at this point for the third straight season, things are not the same.
Not especially for Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving, who finally had health on his side for an entire regular season before helping lead the team to a 12-1 record over the first three rounds of the 2017 NBA Playoffs, which secured the franchise’s third straight trip to The Finals.
“Definitely feels different,” Irving said. “This is one that I can really put in the memory bank and be proud of up until this point because I finally got to play the majority of the games in the regular season and be challenged every, single night. And then, the final three weeks of the season as well as Round 1 was some of the toughest basketball that I had to play. It's definitely one for the books for me up to this point.”
The NBA Playoffs are a proving ground for players, a time to see whether their talents match up with the ability to handle the pressure of increased physicality, a higher level of intensity and meaningful moments at every point of the game.
In Tuesday’s 112-99 Game 4 win, Irving led a comeback from 16 points down and set a new single-game playoff best along the way with 42 points. At one point in the third quarter, the Cavaliers got 14 straight points from Irving and turned a deficit into a seven-point advantage heading into the fourth.
“I knew that if we kept it within 10, a surge was going to happen,” Irving said of the Game 4 win. “I wasn't sure when, but I knew that I had to make the conscious choice to really lead our guys, understanding the situation that we were in.”
After a stout finish to Game 4, Irving came out firing in the second half of Game 5, and scored the Cavaliers’ first 11 points.
Irving initiated the scoring when he buried a 25-foot step-back three-pointer from the wing, and less than a minute later, he caught a pass from James and knocked down a 15-footer from the right side of the free-throw line.
On the next trip down the floor, Irving pulled up for and buried his second triple of the quarter, and that gave the Cavaliers an 83-63 lead over the Celtics with 10:15 to play in the period. Irving kept the good times rolling when he ended a scoring drought with a 23-foot step-back three-pointer from the left corner.
“You look back on it and it definitely helped us grow as a team and mature, so it's something that we needed ultimately. To lose Game 3 in the fashion that we did and the way that Boston challenged us continuously, we needed all that to propel us to this moment,” Irving said.
“There are more moments to come where we'll be tested, especially on the West Coast playing against a great team like the Warriors. It was great for us, and we're happy with getting back to The Finals, but we're definitely not satisfied where we are.”