The book on Kyrie Irving when he arrived in Boston 16 months ago was an offensive stud who was primarily considered a one-way player. He coasted on the defensive end while teaming with LeBron James on a Cavs squad where defense simply was not a priority during the regular season. It wasn’t needed on most nights and there wasn’t any sense of accountability demanded from Cleveland's coaching staff for Irving over an 82-game grind. He had shown he could step it up when needed (i.e. 2016 NBA Finals) but it’s not something that could be counted on for a nightly basis. Plenty of mystery swirled about what the C's could ultimately get out of him in this area for a more defensive-minded group.
While Irving's defensive capabilities have been questioned here, there’s always been little doubt Irving was a capable No. 1 scoring option for a contender. It’s something he proved yet again with a 40-point masterpiece against the Sixers in a 121-114 overtime victory on Christmas night. Irving scored 23 points in the first half, hit the game-tying shot in regulation and then iced the win with two straight 3s in the final two minutes of overtime. We’ve seen this a lot from the All-Star and almost have come to expect it. His teammates at least do.
“I'm about used to it now,” Marcus Morris said. “When he first came, it was crazy. But some of the shit don't even surprise me no more with how often he does it, you know what I'm saying?”
Still, the bigger takeaway from Irving’s performance does not come from the points column and it isn’t an isolated development either. The 26-year-old is getting his hands dirty for this team on a nightly basis and it’s helping propel this group to crucial wins in the midst of struggles throughout other parts of the roster.