I was at Game 4 of the NBA Finals in Cleveland on Friday night.
I watched as Kyrie Irving poured in his career playoff-high 34 points in the Cavs loss, and more so down the stretch of the game, I heard fans fervently yelling for Irving to pass the ball as he tried to forcibly create offense for the Cavs in the fourth quarter.
Over the last 7:30 of Game 4, no one outside of LeBron, Kyrie, and Kevin Love attempted a shot for the Cavs.
This doesn’t just speak to the lack of depth and creative weapons as compared to the Warriors, but also the nature of Cleveland’s stars. Sure, it’s expected and encouraged for a team’s best players to take most of the shots, especially when you’re trying to make up a deficit, but inclusion is also necessary, and on the floor, that falls on the point guard.
I couldn’t wait to watch the manifestation of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving teaming up. I wrote words about how important they were to each other as a duo. Aside from their creative chemistry, I wanted to see how ready LeBron was to help Kyrie develop as a player, leader, and winner. I believe that we’ve just seen the beginning of Irving’s maturation process, but something about this still isn’t right.
What made Miami such a safe haven for LeBron was Dwyane Wade. While the nagging debate of ‘whose team is it’ was slowly answered as LeBron’s, as most felt was needed for them to reach their peak level, Wade was still the perfect basketball and emotional crutch. He had already done what LeBron was trying to accomplish. He gave LeBron the kind of mental support no one else could. Their games and leadership styles gave way to each other in a fashion that had no option but to result in success. Having graduated from that experience, LeBron now assumes that role for the likes of Irving, Kevin Love and the Cavs, being their crutch in times of doubt and dismay.
What LeBron has in Cleveland is firepower, but what LeBron needs more than pillars of young talent beside him is a true point guard and a leader. Kyrie Irving is a scorer first, an ability that serves as it’s own crutch for LeBron at times, but in the grand scheme of becoming a championship team, Irving has to become more aware of his responsibilities as a point guard and a leader — knowing who needs to get shots and when, setting up the offense for others, and instilling balance.
The luxury for any team with LeBron on the roster is he can be your point guard. Kyrie Irving is by far the most talented point guard LeBron has ever played with, but what LeBron needs is a combination of the sheer talent and a dedicated floor leader. Otherwise, James has to wield those responsibilities himself.
Irving’s gift as a scorer helps LeBron and helps the Cavs, but it’s not what they need most from him.