By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
INDEPENDENCE: Kyrie Irving held a basketball Tuesday night, not a wand, and shorts and a tank top are far more comfortable than a tuxedo with tails. Nevertheless, Jarrett Jack walked away from Irving’s dazzling performance believing it was perhaps his finest of the season.
“I thought this was his most mature game that I’ve seen,” Jack said. “He seemed to have his thumb on the entire temperature of the game and controlled it almost like a maestro at an orchestra.”
Irving’s 37 points and 11 assists against the New York Knicks evoked visions of last season, when Irving surpassed 30 points in three consecutive games and five times in eight games last January during a stretch that coincided with his lone Player of the Week award.
He had just one turnover in 36 minutes Tuesday, making him the first Cavs player to post a 37/11/1 stat line since World B. Free had 43 points, 11 assists and no turnovers on March 29, 1986. Irving is the first player in the NBA to do it since Kobe Bryant had 44 points, 11 assists and one turnover on Dec. 29, 2009.
“He’s definitely learning and growing,” Jack said. “That’s the scary part about him. He’s exceptionally talented and that’s what my job is — help him grow as much as I can every day. I thought this was a giant step for him.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Mike Brown disagrees. Brown views the game through a coach’s lens few others can see. Irving’s numbers Tuesday were sensational, but Brown has never seemed overly concerned with Irving’s shooting woes so he’s not going to celebrate one good night now. In fact, Brown believes Irving has played better even when his final numbers were worse because he made his presence felt in games.
“There’s a way about ‘potential superstars’ and/or ‘superstars’ that they carry themselves and they perform on both ends of the floor, on the bench and in the locker room that he has displayed more often than not this year,” Brown said. “It’s part of his growing and learning experience. He has to grow and learn a little bit different than the rest of us because of who he is.”
The victory over the Knicks pulled the Cavs within one game of the Chicago Bulls for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference entering Wednesday, when the Bulls played at the New York Knicks. Their mini two-game winning streak also qualified the Cavs as the East’s “hottest” team, tied with the Charlotte Bobcats and Brooklyn Nets for the conference’s longest winning streak.
Such is life in the East, when no team is out of playoff contention. Even the worst team in the conference (the Milwaukee Bucks) is only four games out of the playoffs. The worst team in the West, the Utah Jazz, began Wednesday nine games out of the final playoff spot.
A large portion of the Cavs’ fortunes will be tied to Irving, who added 13 points to his shooting percentage to inch it back above 40 percent (.407). His performance Tuesday had even his teammates standing around and watching.
“Sometimes you get caught watching him even when you’re in the game,” C.J. Miles said on the court after the victory. “Sky’s the limit for that dude.”
Carrick Felix, Henry Sims and Sergey Karasev were assigned to the Canton Charge in time for Wednesday’s Development League game. Brown said the three should be recalled in time to join the Cavs on their two-game Florida trip this weekend to Orlando and Miami.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.