Usually the “X-factor” label is given to role players who can potentially have a significant impact on a series. So, by definition, calling Kyrie an X-factor may be insulting. A 25+ PPG scorer during the regular season, Irving has ascended from budding to undisputed superstar over the past year.
And his play is usually vital to the Cavs. But his importance is amplified against the Warriors.
He averaged 27 points last Finals, the most ever from a second leading scorer in Finals history. Standing out as the Cavs go-to scorer down the stretch in Games 5 and 7, Irving proved just how vital winning the point guard battle in this matchup is.
But this year looked like it’d be a different story. Kyrie hadn’t quite lost a step at the beginning of the postseason, but something was off. He wasn’t getting the clean looks he normally did off the dribble. And when he was able to free himself for open looks, he wasn’t sinking shots like we’re accustomed to seeing from him. And this wasn’t three or four fluke games. This became a trend that lasted through the back-end of the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs.
That brings us to the Celtics series. While everybody was launching emergency LeBron flairs skyward after his wayward Game 3 performance, it might’ve been the most important game of the playoffs for Cleveland. With LeBron struggling to get going, it was Kyrie who took the initiative on offense, rounding back into Finals form. He was able to drop 29 on a super-efficient 10/15 shooting despite the loss.
The newfound confidence carried over to Game 4, where he dropped a playoff career high 42 on a ridiculous 15/22 shooting, putting on a finishing clinic in the third quarter.
Right now, getting Kyrie comfortable and confident is more important than doing the same for LeBron. That’s because we know that LeBron’s bringing it in the Finals. While Kyrie’s been there before, his erratic postseason play up until the point raised some eyebrows. Shooting in the low 30%’s from three, and the low 40%’s from everywhere, those concerns were justified. But he’s finding his rhythm at the perfect time for Cleveland.
But, just why is Kyrie so important in this matchup. Get this: in Cleveland’s three losses in the Finals last season, Kyrie averaged 23 points on 41% shooting. In the four wins, he averaged 30 points on 51% shooting. And he may be even more valuable this season, especially give the individual matchups.
The Dubs will likely stick Klay on Kyrie, at least in the beginning. While a decent defender, Kyrie has the ability to score and make plays consistently. This may force Golden State to switch primary defenders, maybe even putting Draymond on him. That means that somebody other than Draymond, likely Klay, will be put on LeBron. But more importantly, that means that Dray will be playing far enough away from the basket that the only real resistance at the rim will be Zaza Pachulia. If that’s the case, goodnight Golden State.