When Kyrie Irving returned from a stint of missed games due to a concussion, the first hit came with the biggest gasp. Roy Hibbert, seemingly twice the size of the Cavaliers’ rookie point guard, was ready and waiting. Irving took him on, full speed ahead for two points and deep exhale from all of those with vested interest in the player’s well being.
Almost two months (to the day) later, Irving once again returned, this time from a shoulder injury that some feared could end his freshman campaign in the NBA. Though the contact didn’t occur right away, Irving would collide with Philadelphia 76ers power forward Elton Brand — weighing in just a few pounds shy of Hibbert — and the result would once again come with clenched teeth and a skip of the heart.
Scott, following the team’s 107-83 loss to the Sixers, admitted that he was nervous as he witnessed the Duke on Duke crime. It wasn’t until his prize point guard was peeled off of the hardwood that the blood pressure desceneded back to normal levels.
“He got right back up which was a great sign to show me that he’s fine,” said Scott. “He didn’t grab his shoulder or anything. Matter of fact, he started laughing a little bit when Elton [Brand] grabbed him [and asked] ‘Are you okay.’ That was a good sign. I was a little nervous about that [hit].”
A slashing guard, Irving’s game is predicated on leaving would-be defenders in the dust, only to take on their considerably larger counterparts where he can make in-air decisions: take the shot, take the hit or make the pass. This season, Irving has largely made said decisions in that very order, opting to take his team on his ultimately injured shoulders, floating in game-winners as if it were the Pop-a-Shot at Dave and Busters.
Irving, just as he did following the concussion, quickly shot down any thoughts of unease, reiterating that he refuses not only to play with apprehension, but change his game because of it.
“Not at all,” said Irving after a quick thought-inducing brush of his goatee. “When I had my concussion, I was asked if I would stop attacking the basket and would change my game, but I didn’t at all. Those kinds of plays are going to happen and are inevitable. It’s not going to make me change my game at all.
“It was just a play [Brand] tried to make on the ball. I fell to the floor and it was my ‘welcome back’ kind of moment. It was good to get it out of the way in the early going.”
The final result: 19 minutes, nine points, three rebounds and four assists. His first bucket occurred in typical Irving fashion, losing Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday at the top of the key with a behind-the-back move, driving into the lane for the easy lay-in and two points.
Not long after the hit, at least in terms of game minutes, Scott would bring out the hook on Irving, opting to allow the first-overall pick to shake off some of the loose rust, but still keeping his focus on the future. Irving would sit with approximately eight minutes left in the third quarter, never to return again. The Sixers would go on a 24-2 run, putting the game out of reach.
There have been various schools of thought on whether or not Irving should be playing. Some prefer to let the season wind to a close, knowing what they have, jockying for ping pong balls. Scott, however, plans on taking the handful of minutes he provided Irving and adding to it liitle by little as the season comes to an end. Some games, he may not play at all. Others, the team will use as a test to see what Irving can do with some of the new additions as the team attempts to get a feel for what they have at their disposal heading into the summer months.
One item they know they have is a tough-and-ready 20-year-old point guard who will not shy away from the competition regardless of size or stature. The keystone from which the team will build.
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)