Kyrie Irving Reminding NBA How Crucial He Is to Cavaliers’ Title Defense

Kyrie Irving Reminding NBA How Crucial He Is to Cavaliers’ Title Defense

CLEVELAND — As the Cleveland Cavaliers stared their nightmare scenario square in the eyes, temporarily losing their best player to foul trouble and having fallen into a first-half double-digit hole, Kyrie Irving saved the day. Paced by a 21-point third quarter and a playoff career-high 42 points overall, Irving gave the Cavs a 112-99 win over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, putting his team up 3-1 in the series.

Behind Irving’s big showing, Cleveland can return to Boston with a different mindset. Instead of being forced to play at least six games against the Celtics while the Golden State Warriors rested, the Cavaliers are now just one win away from a third straight trip to the NBA Finals.

Avoiding an even series was something that drove Irving during the comeback win.

“In the back of my mind, I was saying to myself that they cannot tie up this series,” Irving said. “We cannot go to Boston 2-2. Then it becomes almost an even series.”

More importantly, this is the type of performance (and mentality) that Cleveland must see from its floor general should it defend its title against Golden State. This squad needs someone to shoulder the load when LeBron James is off the court, and as a whole, it needs players who refuse to let a series turn in the opponents’ favor.

After a somewhat ordinary start Tuesday, Irving took matters into his own hands when James hit the bench at the 6:46 mark of the second quarter with four fouls. At the time, the Cavaliers trailed 43-33, and James would sit for the rest of the quarter. Irving scored 12 of his team’s final 14 points in the half to keep the margin at 10 heading into halftime.

While the crowd seemingly got louder after every Irving bucket, one superstar spectator wasn’t surprised.

“Same thing I’ve been saying since I got here,” James said. “He’s a special kid. He’s a special talent. As the stakes get higher and higher, his game gets higher and higher.”

Even though James returned to the floor in the third quarter, Irving remained the hot hand. He shot 9-for-10 from the field for 21 points, nearly single-handedly outscoring Boston (23 points) by himself. That outburst helped Cleveland jump out to an 87-80 lead heading into the fourth, erasing any lingering stench from the 16-point deficit the Cavs faced earlier in the game.

Irving ultimately finished 15-of-22 on the night, including 4-of-7 from deep and 8-of-9 from the foul line.

“It’s almost like a runner’s high, where you get so juiced up and see a couple of shots going in that you feel the emotion kind of take over,” Irving said. “Shots just start to fall in, and moves that you’ve practiced just become second nature.”

Irving not only propelled the Cavs to a 3-1 series lead, but he also gave…