The Cavaliers are one win away from a third consecutive meeting with the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

CLEVELAND — Kyrie Irving has accomplished more in his six years in the league than most NBA players ever will.

His three-pointer in last year’s Game 7 was one of the iconic shots in NBA history. It helped snap Cleveland’s 52-year title drought.

A former No. 1 overall pick, Irving also has an Olympic gold medal, the hardware from this past summer’s Rio games.

But what Irving doesn’t have — and won’t have despite his prodigious talent — is alpha male status as long as LeBron James is sharing the court with him. Everywhere he’s been, be it title-hungry Cleveland or glitzy South Beach, James has been king.

His physical talent, which hasn’t diminished in the least despite his 14 seasons in the NBA, coupled with his immense stature, makes James an immovable force atop the hierarchy of every team he’s on. But Irving’s time is coming. And James knows it. Irving’s wizardry was one of the primary reasons James returned in 2014.


“He’s a special talent,” James said. “As the stakes get higher and higher, his game gets higher and higher, but (Irving’s performance Tuesday night vs. the Boston Celtics) was nothing surprising for me. He showed why he’s one of the best point guards in the league, and he commanded us to be better, especially in the second half.”

What Irving did in setting a new playoff career-high (42 points) in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals was nothing short of stunning. And given James’ unprecedented first half foul trouble, which came on the heels of their stunning Game 3 collapse, Irving’s timing was as impeccable as one of his glancing, twisting layups. The possibility that the Celtics could head back to Boston with more than a puncher’s chance of winning the series was apparent. Instead, they’ll have to fight to stay alive in Thursday’s Game 5.

“The importance of a Game 4, especially the way we came out in a Game 3, in the back of my mind, I’m saying to myself, ‘we cannot — they cannot tie up this series.’ They cannot. We cannot go to Boston 2-2, and then it becomes almost an even series.”

Irving scored 18 points in the first half, including 10 consecutive with James watching from the bench. In other words, thanks to Irving, the Celtics gained no advantage despite forcing the world’s best player out of the game.

Irving’s third quarter, though, contained a spectacular run of buckets that most NBA players can’t even consider. Twenty-one points. A Cavs playoff-record nine field goals on 10 shots. Fourteen consecutive at one point and a dozen in the final 1:49, which came after he rolled his ankle on a transition bucket.

Irving described it as a runner’s high when there’s hardly any thinking involved. That’s the type of zone Irving was in, and it’s why James has said in the past he thinks his young prodigy could one day be a league MVP. But after his run, in part due to his ankle, Irving yielded.

James, as he’s accustomed to doing, played closer with 15 points in the fourth. His final stat line of 34 points and six assists was staggering because of how poorly he had played in the first half, but it was Irving who built the foundation for the Cavs’ comeback.

Irving’s dazzling ball skills are on the same level as Steph Curry, and his one-on-one ability is second to none. His ability to finish in traffic, with an array of spins and angles, is uncanny. The four-time All-Star has had several seminal moments, from his 57-point outburst in 2015 at San Antonio to his epic Game 5 Finals performance last season when he and James each scored 41 while facing elimination on the road. But Tuesday’s showing was special in its own right, considering the Cavs were desperate for a spark with the team reeling and James out of the game.

Given the circumstances, Irving had no choice but to be assertive. But with James as the team’s focal point — and that is expected to be the case at least until next offseason when he’s a free agent again — Irving said he’s not sure when he will be passed the torch.

“It’s hard not to think about because as I continue to get older, and I’m playing with an unbelievable player like Bron, from the outsider’s perspective, it could be seen a few ways,” Irving said. “It hasn’t been anything short of difficult trying to figure out when it will be my time.”

It is similar to the situation Dwyane Wade encountered when James ventured to Miami for four seasons with four consecutive Finals runs. The difference was that Wade was already established and already had a championship to his name. Irving lived through three lean years before James came back.

“He basically was just waiting for an opportunity to be able to blossom,” James said of Irvinig. “I’m just happy and blessed that when I decided to come back that I was able to help him blossom, I guess, because he gets to play in games that he’s always been built for. He just never had the opportunity because of the team at that point in time. I’m happy to be able to sit back with four fouls and see him do what he’s always been built to do. He was born for these moments.”


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