TORONTO: While a herd of about 20 reporters swarmed around Kyrie Irving late Saturday night, C.J. Miles packed up his belongings while singing an old yet familiar tune — with new lyrics.
“Sometimes I dream, that he is me … like Ky. I like to be like Ky.”
Miles’ song, of course, is in reference to the old hit Gatorade jingle about Michael Jordan. The fact Irving has now hit five game-winning shots before he can celebrate any of them with an alcoholic drink is rather staggering.
“He’s special, man,” Miles said. “He does everything that needs to be done in this league and he’s 20 years old. I couldn’t even hand him a beer if I wanted to. Think about that.”
Irving’s dramatic 3-pointer in the game’s final second Saturday night was the fifth game-winner of his young career. While the term “game-winning shot” is an arbitrary term, and therefore records are sparse, Irving is in rare air.
He has played 85 career games and already has two game-winners with one second or less remaining. The only other player since the 2002-03 season to have two such game-winning baskets through 85 career games is the Sacramento Kings’ Tyreke Evans, according to STATS.
Stretch it out to the final three seconds, and Irving is credited with three game-winning shots, according to STATS. Since their records only date back to 2002-03, they don’t have any record of Michael Jordan’s career. But LeBron James didn’t hit a game-winner like that until March 22, 2006 — well into his third season in the league.
“He’s got big coolness,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “He’s still a kid. He’s just having fun. He’s just enjoying himself, playing at an unbelievable high level right now.”
As the reporters swarmed Irving, he took the moment to grasp his rightful place atop the organization. Throughout his rookie season, Irving shied away from the label of leader. Not anymore.
“I’m the leader of this team,” Irving said, believed to be the first time he’s actually uttered those six words. It may be obvious to those on the outside, and even on the inside, but it was an important moment for Irving to understand what is expected of him every night.
He deferred last season in part because he was a rookie and because of the presence of guys like Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker. Yet with the veterans gone and Irving on the verge of his All-Star debut — perhaps as a starter now that Rajon Rondo is out with a knee injury — he appears comfortable in this role.
It’s almost as if his conversation with Scott following the road trip unleashed the chains Irving had wrapped around himself.
“Like I told you guys back in Cleveland, Coach Scott only had to tell me once to be more aggressive,” Irving said. “We’re seeing a trend here.”
Indeed. After the week Irving produced, if he’s not the Eastern Conference player of the week, the voting is rigged. He has carried the Cavs to their first three-game winning streak since March 7-11 of last year. A win over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday will make their first four-game streak since James’ final season.
It might be semantics, with Irving calling himself the leader, but it was an important step for a player quickly blossoming into one of the best in the league.
“We put full confidence in him. Everybody on this team knows it, even if he doesn’t say it,” Miles said. “If you put us in a dark room and ask who is the leader, everybody would say Ky. Everybody. No doubt about it.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at https://ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.