Cavalier Film Room: Kyrie Irving’s late game execution

It’s back! Each week during the season, I’ll break down some aspect of recent Cavalier games or a team trend through the magic of some screen grabs. If you have an idea for something I should analyze, feel free to email me at I’m going to start the Cavalier Film Room campaign with a look at some of Kyrie Irving’s late game looks through the first five games.

WFNY Cavaliers Film Room

The Cavaliers are 2-3, and many, like me, are a little irritated that they weren’t able to pull out either the Charlotte or Milwaukee game against (perceived) inferior opponents. Regardless, the wine and gold have been playing some close games, and with that comes Kyrie Irving-centric possessions down the stretch. Mr. Fourth Quarter has had some mixed results in the early going, and Kyrie’s numbers across the board have been quite different this year. Without further ado, let’s dig into the tape to see what I’m talking about here.

Here, we’re going to do a little “good, bad, and ugly”. The “good” comes from opening night in the win over Brooklyn at home. We’re going to look at the most clutch bucket of the game, Anderson Varejao’s mid-range set shot with the shot clock winding down in the final minute. Here, we begin after Kyrie already tried a long three over the top of Jason Terry and Earl Clark battled to grab the offensive rebound and extend the possession.


Andy comes out to meet Kyrie. Brook Lopez, a strong shot-blocker and a defender that does not come out of the paint very often, is on Varejao. Terry is on Kyrie.


Where’s everyone looking? Terry, Lopez, Garnett, Pierce, and Joe Johnson all have at least one eye on Kyrie. The only defender that is more than one step outside of the key is the on-ball defender Terry.


Andy does his best impersonation of me in my high school playing days. Set pick, turn around, set pick going the other way, turn around, set pick going back the other way again. He does all of this right at the foul line, and by now, the Nets know the drill. Nobody but Kyrie is taking this shot. Clark and Waiters are both trying to move to allow a release valve, but it’s not getting kicked out to them in all likelihood.


Because of Lopez’s size, he has the luxury of letting Kyrie drive into him. Instead of seeking Kyrie, he’ll allow Terry to do the chasing, and if Kyrie comes into the paint, Lopez is there to block the shot attempt or cut off a lane.

Four defenders surround Irving, and he looks to be in danger of forcing up a prayer or turning it over without even getting a shot off.


The only thing Brooklyn didn’t do here was cut off the pass right back to the screener from where Irving started. Varejao, because he did not roll on the play, stays in Irving’s field of vision, and as he’s falling to the floor, he tosses it out.  Andy has no one in sight to contest the shot. He takes the 20-footer with confidence and drains it. The ability for the big men to take and make that mid-range jumper that will be gift-wrapped for them in pick and roll scenarios will be huge for the Cavaliers’ growth. Tristan and Andy have both come a long way with those shots, and I know Anthony Bennett will showcase that ability soon.

The “bad” took place on Monday night in Minnesota. The Cavaliers came out of the gate all-world and were crushing the Timberwolves with stellar defense and efficient and effective offense. With about five minutes to go, however, after Minnesota chipped away slowly at the lead, the Cavaliers just cut their engines and coasted to the finish. One defensive stop with a J.J. Barea mis-dribble and a Kevin Love contested three saved them, but the offensive side of things left a lot to be desired.

There are a lot of plays I could look at in the final four minutes. Kyrie drove and turned it over with 3:23 to play as Corey Brewer reached his hand in to knock the ball away.


Kyrie committed an offensive foul while posting up against J.J. Barea with just under two minutes to play.


But, let’s focus on the two offensive sets in the final minute of the game. In both sets, Mike Brown set it up so that Anderson Varejao would come set a pick for Irving at the top of the key and allow him to operate off of that pick. Here’s the first of those two scenarios.


As they get down the floor, we see an initial 1-4 set with Kyrie at the top with the ball in his hands. Varejao and Thompson are both pick and roll options on the block, and Jarrett Jack along with Alonzo Gee are in the corners for spacing purposes.


The Timberwolves send up Derrick Williams rather than Kevin Love to stick with Andy as he sets a screen to Kyrie’s right side. Andy could slip for one of his vastly-improving mid-range jumpers at any time in this process, but that’s not going to happen. Kyrie needs space to operate and use his tight handle to create even more space to get off a good shot.


Because of how heavily they’re overplaying Kyrie on this action, Kyrie waves Andy off in the hopes of isolating Barea and taking him 1-on-1.


As you can see above, Kyrie starts to make his move and creates an angle with that first powerful stride.  Watch Corey Brewer creep in though from the perimeter.


As Andy slides out to create the driving lane, Brewer leaves Jack entirely to help stop Irving’s dribble penetration. This is a situation where I think the Cavaliers needed C.J. Miles out on the floor. You need to put someone on Irving’s side when he makes his move so that either the helpside defender stays latched on to his perimeter matchup or you burn them by giving the Cavs’ best three-point shooter a wide-open look.


Two strides through the Brewer swipe, and Kyrie gets caught in the same spot Alonzo Gee did earlier in the game. He’s too far out for a layup, and he’s a little close to deploy the regular-strength floater that he’s more comfortable using. Instead, this half-float that comes out flat with some spin on it hits the front of the rim and spins off the back of the rim.

Here is the very next offensive possession in a must-score position with the Cavaliers up just one in the final moments.


Andy gets the wave off as he flashes. Kyrie knows that he got the separation that he wanted last time against Barea on his own and thinks he can self-correct his shot and get one to fall.


Because Kyrie’s handle has tightened up so much, he’s comfortable going either way. He shakes and bakes at the top of the arc and makes his move late in the shot clock, going left this time. You can see Barea leaning a bit to the right above.


From the alternate angle, you see Kyrie initiate the contact on Barea as his lane gets cut off. Barea stumbles back at the contact, and Kyrie rises with Derrick Williams jumping out to contest the fadeaway mid-range J.


If we’re not playing “final two minutes” basketball, the contact created by Kyrie very well could’ve been a charge. I’m often skeptical if the space created by a guy Irving’s size is a net positive considering the jarring hit he takes with the contact to knock him off balance. Still, Kyrie got a fairly decent look that he takes quite often. However, it bounces off the back of the rim and the Timberwolves gained possession for one last chance at the win.

And now, the “ugly”. This comes courtesy of Wednesday night’s game in Milwaukee. Granted, the wine and gold don’t make that monumental late-game comeback without Kyrie making multiple plays, but the last three possessions were forced and a disaster from an execution standpoint. On the first of those three, Irving drove inside and threw up a tough shot with two men around him, trying to draw a foul that didn’t come as he air balled it. We’re going to look at the final two possessions with the game still in the balance.


Again, we see the pick-and-roll with Varejao as the Cavaliers’ go-to set in crunch time. Kyrie doesn’t wave it off in this case.


Sometimes, you can’t tell if a play should work, but with this one, I love the setup. Kyrie gets around the corner against O.J. Mayo and Zaza Pachulia. Kyrie’s got the angle to lay it up high and over Zaza’s outstretched arms. If he draws John Henson, Thompson can step in for a bounce pass and dunk. Varejao’s wide open to streak down the middle of the paint for a layup too with Mayo’s back turned to him. There really are several options for this set to succeed.


D’oh! Kyrie looks up and dribbles the ball right off his foot and out of bounds. This stuff happens, but watching the play unfold again with the way that Mayo and Pachulia both played it, that play if Irving successfully turns the corner was bound to work one way or another.

This one bothered me more than the turnover. The Cavaliers are now down three and after calling their last timeout due to their inability to get the ball inbounds. Dion Waiters gets the ball into Kyrie Irving.


Notice, however, that Kyrie catches it in the nearside corner, probably the worst possible spot that one could.


Irving dribbles out of the corner, but Mayo is close and checking him at the three point arc (something that would have got him praise from Mike Brown). There’s nothing really going on in this play at all. No screen setting, no wing cuts, no attempt at breaking him down off the dribble. Nothing.


Then, Kyrie launches a heavily contested and off-balance three point shot for the tie. He misses badly, and it was essentially game over for the Cavs, a comeback falling just short.


The shot above really shows it. With 10 seconds left and down three, there’s no reason to take that tough of a three-point shot, no matter who it is. Kyrie should’ve either tried to get to the basket or kicked it back out to Waiters, who likely would’ve faced one defender and may have been able to get a much better three point look.

In summary, we all know that Kyrie Irving’s going to be taking nearly all of the game-ending shots for these Cavaliers, and that’s the way it should be. But, the Cavaliers need to keep moving, and if the defense does it job and prevents Irving from being able to get off a good shot, other options need to exist for Irving to make the right play and pass the ball for someone else to knock down a higher percentage shot.

That’s it for this week. Until next time, the film room is closed!

  • frankelee

    This team is young, and young teams invariably have a problem with staying organized and ready to attack against a stout defense. Honestly, people have been waaaaay too bullish on this team, Kyrie is an all-star, Andy is a guy most any team would enjoy on the roster, but the rest of the guys are role-players right now, and young role-players at that. Maybe Waiters will reach his potential, but the idea of him performing at the level close to the best SGs in the league, which is what this team will need to significantly bust through .500 is comical right now.