Lue: Irving is ‘Primed to Go Off’ vs. Celtics
BOSTON – Two-thirds of Cleveland’s “Big 3” erupted against the Boston Celtics Wednesday night during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The other third, All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, Boston kept in check.
While Kevin Love and LeBron James combined for 70 points during Cleveland’s 117-104 win, Irving was limited to a playoff-low 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
“They did a good job on him,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue bluntly stated Friday morning ahead of Game 2 in Boston.
A good job, indeed. The Celtics’ perimeter defense stifled Irving beyond the 3-point arc. They held him scoreless from long range for the first time this postseason, and just the sixth time all season, as he missed all three of his 3-point attempts.
Avery Bradley was a nightmare for Irving every time he touched the ball, just as he was on March 1 during the the third game of their regular season series when the on-ball defensive guru famously shut down Irving during the closing moments of a thrilling Celtics win.
While Irving didn’t fill the scoring column Wednesday night, Lue said he impacted the game in other ways, such as quarterbacking the offense. The four-time All-Star dished out six assists, four of which set up buckets for the red-hot duo of James and Love.
“I thought he did a great job of play calling, getting those guys shots, getting those guys to the right spots,” Lue said ahead of Cleveland’s shootaround at TD Garden. “And he understood that Kevin and LeBron had it going, so let’s ride those guys. That’s what a great point guard does.”
The fact that Irving was quiet scoring-wise Wednesday night doesn’t mean he will remain ineffective tonight in that department. He has a strong history against the Celtics, including this season when he averaged 25.5 points per game during four contests against Boston.
Irving was also the second-leading scorer (25.2 PPG) among East point guards this season, trailing only Isaiah Thomas (28.9 PPG). On top of that, he’s had no problem scoring in the postseason. The four-time All-Star averaged 23.8 PPG through the first two rounds and has scored 20-plus points during six out of nine playoff games.
“He’s a special player,” said Lue. “And with LeBron playing the way he has as of late, we really haven’t called Kyrie’s number a lot. But he’s primed to go off at any time, and you know that. That’s why we have the luxury of having a Big 3.”
Cleveland is fortunate in that it can afford a quiet night from Irving since it has two other stars that can back him up. James and Love did just that Wednesday night, as they led Cleveland to a dominant Game 1 win despite an underwhelming performance from their point guard.
If Irving does go off Friday night, as Lue insinuated as a possibility, that could be a scary prospect for the C’s. When Cleveland’s three-headed monster is clicking on all cylinders, it is nearly impossible to stop. So, Boston must be on its toes, and Bradley must bring his A-game again, knowing that Irving is unlikely to be as unproductive during Game 2 as he was during the series opener.