Yes, the last real possession of this game was very bad.
For all the reasons Burneko already laid out, this step-back over Klay Thompson was situationally different, and much worse, than the equivalent hero-ball three from last year’s Game 7, the defining shot of Irving’s career. Especially galling is the extra oomph that Irving puts on his step-back just to squeeze behind the three point line, despite the Cavs being down by just one and hungry for any quality shot at all. There’s no way that additional push could’ve steadied legs already deadened by some of the best 43 minutes he’s ever played, and that pathetic heave, grazing the front end of the rim, bears the evidence.
Many of the decisions that Kyrie Irving makes on a basketball court inspire confusion. A critic could find plenty of principled basketball reasons to dislike Kyrie Irving’s game: his chief weapon is mind-meltingly intricate dribbling in an era that increasingly prizes crisp ball movement and off-ball action, with his current foe, the greatest team ever, taking those values to their logical extreme. His shot selection is the perfect antithesis of what you’d teach a person learning how to play basketball: feel free to take all the heavily defended shots with, yes, one hand, while hurtling through the air, with open teammates around.
But, counterpoint: these are some of the coolest things I’ve ever seen anyone do a court.
Anything Kyrie tried outside the arc was disastrous—he went zero of seven from three—but he was a deranged maestro inside it, nailing 16 of 22 and making none of them look like they came easy. Of his 15 attempts from within nine feet of the basket, he made 13, and among them were some of the weirdest finishes of his career, that had everyone in my vicinity ululating at the TV. Fuck flawless range-shooting—sometimes you just want to see a guy dribbling the ball four inches off the floor, cutting a swath through an elite defense with a string of video-game moves, and then banking a painfully angled floater over six desperate arms while falling on his ass. Sometimes you want to see all the things you could never practice on a basketball court, could never even begin to understand mechanically.
Lately I find myself watching sports not in pursuit of sustained, well-engineered beauty but the random spurt of foolhardy genius. The same impulse had me hollering in January when Roger Federer—the closest thing to luxury vehicle you can find in sports—went down a break in the fifth set against the greatest closer, realized caution was futile, chucked the defensive slice out of his toolkit, and starting obliterating his one-hander with the thinnest margins of error. It worked for him.
Last night, after a game full of good fortune, it finally stopped working for Kyrie Irving. I can live with that. The obvious danger of loving a player who makes spectacular, bad shots is that he sometimes takes spectacularly bad shots. Plenty of current NBA players could have produced a wiser basket in those circumstances, but no other player could have made all the ones leading up to it.