Kyrie Irving Sits the Fourth as Cavs Cruise into Summer

With approximately eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter on a Monday night in Memphis, Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving cheered as his teammate Samardo Samuels dropped in a finger roll, bringing their team within one point of a back-and-forth contest against an opponent many feel could challenge for the Western Conference finals. Like clockwork, he then began to affix his body armor. Knee pads were properly positioned, shin guards raised from resting on his Nike high-tops to their location of utility.

But Irving waited. He then waiting some more.

The fourth quarter wizardry to which Cavalier fans have grown accustomed was put on hold as Cleveland head coach Byron Scott kept his prize possession on the sideline, watching as teammates Tristan Thompson and Antawn Jamison would retake the floor. Having been given some rest with three minutes left in the third quarter, Irving would not join his four starting teammates until there were just over four game minutes remaining.

The result would net one field goal attempt — a missed three-pointer — sandwiched by a slew of free throw attempts. Irving’s penetration game was alive and well, getting to the free throw line after a hellacious move was placed on an unsuspecting Mark Gasol, but the other aspects of the rookie’s otherwise dominating skill set had seemingly been cooled off by the prolonged rest including a very rare two missed free throws with his team down one point. The Cavaliers would lose 109-101 to the playoff-bound Memphis Grizzlies.

“I thought I would come back a little earlier than I did,” Irving said. “But I respect Coach Scott’s decision. I know he’s looking out for me.”

Irving would go on to score 25 points with nary a fourth-quarter field goal. He was 10-of-16 from the floor, draining a handful of three-pointers as well as his typical array of lay-ins with both hands coupled with floaters off of the glass. What Irving was unable to do in the fourth quarter, he provided in the opening set. Behind-the-backs and cross-overs and jab steps, Irving showed absolutely no signs of the shoulder injury which kept him out of action for the bulk of April.

“I was just taking what the defense gave me, making simple basketball plays and feeding off my teammates,” said Irving who finished the quarter with 13 points, three assists and a steal. “It’s kind of what I do every single game. It was one of the best quarters that we’ve had throughout the season.”

Blow for blow, the 190-pound point guard kept a woebegone Cavaliers team in lockstep with the Grizzlies, a team which could potentially finish as the fourth-best unit in the Western Conference. A competitor, Irving naturally wanted to check back into the contest to help his team win their second game in the last four nights. But he also understands the importance of his long-term health as well as the benefits of falling just short when the backboards light up for the last time.

One week ago, shutting Irving down for the remainder of the season was considered an option. On Monday night, he was among team-leaders in minutes played despite sitting out much of the fourth quarter. He has little left to prove this season, a player who could potentially win the Rookie of the Year award by an unanimous vote. If Irving was confronted by the “rookie wall” at any point this season, he blew through it like the Juggernaut, amassing a list of opposing would-be defenders’ names.

The Cavaliers will take to Quicken Loans Arena for one final time this season. It would make sense for Scott to at least dress Irving on what will be “Fan Appreciation Night.” How much Irving will play, however, remains to be seen. If what occurred on Monday night is merely the beginning of a pattern as the team begins to taper off the playing time of select individuals, Irving’s knee pads and shin guards could be found awaiting application a lot longer than the first-overall pick had grown used to.

After Thursday, he’ll be waiting even longer.

Photo: John Kuntz, The Plain Dealer

  • Derek

    I was at the Jazz game when Kyrie went into the fourth quarter with one point and went off and ended the night as the Cavs second leading scorer. Just one of the many memories on an excellent rookie season.  

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    As good as Irving’s fourth quarters have been his first halves in particular the second quarter have been dreadful.  I think the stat was something like -106 in the 2nd as opposed to the +60 in the fourth quarter. 

  • I honestly think that’s as much about Byron Scott’s rotations as anything else. Kyrie frequently sat for LONG stretches extending from halfway through the 1st quarter to at least halfway through the 2nd quarter. He was always much less effective when he came back into the game, and he tended to look hesitant and removed from the game. I think he usually sat for far too long, but Coach Scott knows a million times more about player development than I do. It was probably for his own good in limiting his minutes early in the season.

  • mgbode

    good thing he sat the 4th.  he was playing well enough to win that game.  actually picked it to watch since the Indians weren’t on.  i cheer for them to win while watching, but took a sigh when he was benched to be honest.

    the issue isn’t how many ping-pong balls either (though greater odds of top3 are nice).  it’s how far we would fall if we happen to win.   right now we are tied for 4th with the Kings but NJ and Toronto are only a 1/2 game behind us.  So, we could conceivably end up in the 7th slot (which could easily and perhaps likely become the 8th slot after the lottery).

    at pick4, we likely have Beal.
    at pick8, Davis, MKG, Beal, T.Robinson, Drummond, Barnes, and possibly even J.Lamb are gone.  

    at that point, we are selecting between Austin Rivers, Arnett Moultre, Perry Jones and Tyler Zeller.  That is a HUGE dropoff.

  • Not to mention attempts at trying to be a point guard. Passing to open teammates who subsequently miss shots does not make one “dreadful.”

  • DontbringLBJback

    It is a big drop off, but I wouldn’t be too upset with Rivers or Moultre.  They would make an immediate impact. 

  • Natedawg86

    So what is going to happen against WAshington?  I know they have won 4 straight, but man…

  • No

    I’m sorry, this is embarrassing. I know there’s nothing the league can do about tanking, and I know I’ll never convince some of you that the randomness of the draft will make these losses less valuable than you think.

    Kyrie just turned 20. He had a grand total of 11 college games under his belt. Every minute he’s out there he learns & gets better. There’s not a single player available to us in this draft (except Anthony Davis) who has a chance to be more important to the long term future of the Cavs.

    Plus, if I were a season ticket holder or sponsor, I’d be livid. Why pay for this non-competitive garbage? It’s not just bad basketball, it’s intentionally bad.

  • mgbode

    my hope is that Irving shows Wall who the best young PG truly is for 3 quarters and then sits for the 4th and the Wiz get the win.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Even more damning than Kyrie sitting for most of the 4th quarter is Luke Walton getting playing time (this is a half-joke).  Man, Walton is so unbelievably terrible… I don’t want to see him anywhere near this team next season.  Even Detroit would be too close.

  • mgbode

    I heard that Luke is spending his time right now preparing to guard John Wall in the 4th quarter

  • AlexMathews

    The losses are still incredibly valuable. Look at the loss column in the lottery. The 4-9 slots are separated by the thinnest of margins…just TWO games. There is a marked talent drop-off after the first 5 picks in this draft. If we finish 7th worst, we have low odds at 1-3, and are guaranteed a 7-9 pick. If we finish 4th worst, we have MUCH better odds at 1-3, but are otherwise guaranteed a 4-6 pick. You’d be crazy to think that even accounting for the randomness of the draft, the losses aren’t awfully valuable. There are six teams with nearly identical win-loss records, so every loss is awfully important the standings.

    Kyrie is our franchise superstar. No one is arguing that anyone we get in the draft will be better than Kyrie (unless we somehow luck out and get Davis). But we need a #2 or even #3 guy to go along with Irving to be championship contenders. With this franchise, the easiest way to do that is through the draft with high picks. If you’re worried that Kyrie is being under-used, he’s going to be playing the entire summer league season, along with whoever our draft picks are. He will only improve and build chemistry with them during the summer, to be in firing shape when the season starts again in October.

    I wouldn’t be livid if I was a season ticket holder. Up until the day this team traded Ramon Sessions, the Cavs were AWFULLY competitive, hung in there in nearly every game, and even won a few games against teams that were labelled “too good”. The ticket holders got their money’s worth for most of the season. MOST people recognize that what the Cavs are doing now is building their core and securing their long term future, so the team can be competitive for years to come.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I heard that in anticipation of this momentous occasion, John stole Luke’s watch, car, girlfriend, and BLT.

  • Yup

    Henson, for the love of god. Better than Zeller. Do some research…

  • Yup

    Walton is the best passer on this team.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Correction: Walton completes the most impressive passes, but for every sweet pass there is a pass that gets picked off by the defense.  His assist to turnover ratio is basically 1:1.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Yeah, show your work son!  I want to see some mathematical calculations and pie charts. (Just teasing… you picked the one guy who does plenty of statistical research on this kind of stuff).

  • mgbode

    me fail english? that’s unpossible.

    anyways, Zeller vs. Henson will be an interesting debate come draft-time.  I’m on the Zeller side of things, but certainly can see the Henson side.  Here’s how they stack up:

    Size Advantage Zeller:
    Zeller – 7’0″  250lbs. 
    Henson – 6’11” 220lbs.

    Athleticism Advantage – Draw (IMO)
    Zeller – bigger, stronger, doesn’t get moved off the block.  I count this as part of athleticism.  He also can and does run up and down the floor.
    Henson – quicker, better leaper, also can run.  Not nearly as strong.

    Defense – Zeller
    Zeller – can play most size guys.  smaller, quicker PFs he has enough athleticism to stay with and not give them easy buckets.  bigger guys he can bang with underneath.  he takes charges, he is great on help defense, and he rotates great on screens.  also was pretty good at anticipating passes and batting them away.
    Henson – maybe it was just due to having Zeller too, but he often got caught out of position going for the big block and he doesn’t have the bulk to bang underneath.  better against the quicker bigs for obvious reasons.

    Zeller – hard to judge UNC bigs due to their fastbreak and secondary break.  they have to run, then get setup with easy transition (or secondary transition) shots underneath.  good finishing at/above the rim.   But, he shot well on jumpers when he took them and was an 80% FT shooter.  Does need more work on his post moves.
    Henson – same concerns about UNC bigs.  not quite as good as Zeller at shooting, but a fantastic finisher at the rim.  Poor 50% FT shooter.

    Age – Henson
    Zeller is 22 (January)
    Henson is 21 (December)

    I see how Henson is that athletic PF that teams crave, but the Cavs have TT already (though Tigger is undersized a bit).   Zeller is a true athletic center and would make up for skipping over Jonas-V last year.

    Hopefully, we get a top5 pick and don’t have to worry about this debate.

  • mgbode

    forgot ball handling:

    Zeller – not bad but not great.  turns the ball over too much and has an assist rate lower than Henson.

    Henson – better than Zeller, still not great though. 

    Zeller/Henson – nearly identical rebound rates per minute

  • mgbode

    that was a MDP Burger not a BLT

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Oh you mean this? (skip to 2:08)

    I miss the times when the Browns were good enough to have local McDonald’s commercials.

  • Eric D

    Unfortunately, my youtube search for the infamous Braylon/Charlie Frye McDonald’s commercial was fruitless.

  • Yup

    Sorry but you lost any credibitly you may have earned when you claimed them even on athleticism. Come on, man! Look, if ya look at it objectively, Henson is absolutely a poor man’s A Davis! I think they even weigh the same! For my money, Henson along w/ PJ3, Davis and T Jones have the highest upside in the top 10 of the draft. Maybe, just maybe, you could put MKG in there though I don’t think he deserves it…and I guess if Drummond declares, he would be added to that list though UConn big men haven’t set the league on fire in the last decade…

  • Yup

    Well, Ass/TO ratio is not exactly a determining stat for a great passer. Besides, much of that can be attributed to players being unfamiliar w/ Walton and vice versa. Dude’s been hear a. Month or so and he has 6 of the 10 best passes the Cavs have had this season.

  • Actually

    NBA draft net has them rated the exact same in terms of athleticism…

  • Howard44024

    RE: “Plus, if I were a season ticket holder or sponsor, I’d be livid. Why pay for this non-competitive garbage? It’s not just bad basketball, it’s intentionally bad.”

    Actually season ticket holders should be “Livid” if Kyrie plays excessive minutes as the Cavs are still concerned about his shoulder. Coach Scott (the man that decides these things) stated after the 76ers game that Kyrie’s minutes would be limited and that he may sit him some games. The reason being that there is no point to risking further injury to their “Franchise” player. Plus many fans have complained over their beating the Knick’s since it affects the draft.

    Bottom line is that if the Cavs are trying to lose I doubt they would play Kyrie or win any games at all.

  • mgbode

    it depends on your definition of athleticism.  if you only care about jumping ability and quickness, then yes Henson is going to win.

    if you also want to weigh in strength, co-ordination, and running ability (both are good – but that gets extra points to the bigger guy), then Zeller catches up pretty quickly.

  • mgbode

    also, please explain ‘why’ you believe so.  I put alot of details from what I saw above and do appreciate to see every side of an argument.  but, I can’t see your side if you don’t tell me other than saying “upside”

  • mgbode

    they tried filming it but Braylon kept dropping the fries and Charlie’s hands were too small to hold the burger

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I mean I hear you… some of his passes are very impressive.  But the guys on his team are not the reason that he’s getting turnovers… they can’t stop defenders from jumping in front of his passes.  He’s trying to squeeze passes into tight spaces and they get picked off almost as often as they get through.  I’m not sure what stat you would go with if you didn’t go with A/TO… even if you’re going by the eyeball test instead of stats, I’ve watched just about every game with Walton this year and that’s what I see… a guy who likes making the spectacular pass but who also turns the ball over too much.  Kyrie is the best passer on the team because his passes lead to baskets more often than turnovers… that is how I qualify a good passer.