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Best and Worst of Kyrie Irving on Display in Cavs' Near-Choke

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Best and Worst of Kyrie Irving on Display in Cavs' Near-Choke
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving wanted to make sure the Cleveland Cavaliers did things right down the stretch against the Minnesota Timberwolves, so he decided to do them himself.

In the end, Irving's decision to go all "Hero Ball" nearly cost the Cavs the game.

Cleveland amassed a hefty 55-38 halftime advantage against the Wolves and seemed a safe bet to hand Kevin Love and Co. their first defeat of the young season. Irving and the Cavaliers were off and running from the opening tip, beating the beleaguered Wolves (who played Nov. 3 in New York) at their own uptempo game.

Irving put forth a particularly balanced effort, surely a welcome sight for Cavs fans who had been wondering whether they could swap Kyrie for Uncle Drew in hopes of getting more buckets out of the point guard spot.

Finally, after a rocky first three games, it appeared that the Cavs' franchise player was finding his all-around form. No trade for a 75-year-old Pepsi pitchman was going to be necessary.

Things were looking good for both Irving and the Cavaliers.

Per Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "Cavaliers coach Mike Brown emphasized starting strong against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night at The Q. Maybe he should have talked about finishing strong as well."

Minnesota somehow fought through the fatigue of playing on the second night of a back-to-back set, outscoring the Cavs by two points in the third before making a major surge in the game's final period.

When Irving checked in with 5:22 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Cavs still held a 88-73 advantage. But Cleveland's best player tried to do far too much, getting himself into trouble and missing shots he'd typically make in his sleep.

He fouled Kevin Love as the big man made a layup with 4:48 remaining, giving the Wolves a three-point play and a little more hope than they should have had.

Then, Irving turned the ball over on consecutive possessions, first giving up a steal to Corey Brewer that led to free throws on the other end, and then stepping out of bounds. On Cleveland's next possession, Irving appeared to right the ship, tossing in a four-footer to give his team a nine-point lead with just 2:43 left in the game.

It would be the Cavs' last bucket of the contest.

From that point forward, Irving committed an offensive foul against J.J. Barea, missed a runner and missed a step-back jumper. That ugly sequence—combined with the Wolves' continued onslaught—resulted in a final possession that Cleveland never should have had to endure.

With 1.9 seconds left, Love got off a look from long range that would have given the Timberwolves an improbable victory. Jarrett Jack rebounded the miss, securing one of the diciest 93-92 victories anyone in Cleveland could remember.

Irving's attempt to take the game over by himself was probably a familiar sight for most Cavs fans. Last year, he ranked fourth in the NBA in scoring during the fourth quarter with an average of 6.8 points per period, according to NBA.com. That mark trailed only Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony.

Despite the fact that Irving enjoyed so much success in the final quarter of last year's games, it's worth mentioning that most forward-thinking analysts around the league frown on one-man late-game heroics. It's a predictable way to attack, and today's defenses are too smart for one player (no matter how talented) to do consistent damage efficiently.

In fact, there's even a pejorative name for the practice.

Look, Irving is unquestionably the Cavaliers' best player. On most nights, it's probably a pretty good idea to put the ball in his hands when the game is hanging in the balance.

But he was clearly out of sorts against the Wolves, and it's hard to say why.

Perhaps the elbow he injured Nov. 1 against the Charlotte Bobcats was bothering him. Or maybe he was pressing in an effort to get his disappointing season on track.

Whatever the cause, Irving has to find a solution for his statistical woes. And he should have learned against Minnesota that putting his head down and trying to do everything himself isn't the way to go about sorting out his game.

On the season, Irving now averages 15.3 points, 6.8 assists and 5.5 rebounds a game on 38 percent shooting. Those numbers are fine for most players, but for a the guy who's supposed to be leading the Cavs to a playoff berth, they're not quite up to snuff.

But hey, the Cavaliers gave the Timberwolves their first loss of the season. And maybe the collapse down the stretch will serve as a reminder that no win is secure until the buzzer sounds. Perhaps Cleveland will develop the kind of "closer" instinct it has lacked in its recent lottery-bound seasons.

All in all, Irving was terrific in short spurts against Minnesota, but he nearly cost his team the game as time wound down. It's probably unfair to pin the entire collapse on Irving, especially considering that the Cavaliers collectively stopped defending in the fourth quarter.

But when you're a budding superstar with unlimited talent, an unfair portion of the blame comes with the territory. If Irving is the kind of player the Cavs think he is, he'll use this opportunity to re-evaluate his approach to closeout situations.

Sometimes, when you want things done right, you can't do them yourself.

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