If you would have asked me for a 3-point contest prediction for Saturday night, it would have taken me exactly 4 names before I mentioned Kyrie Irving. See, Irving was the best overall basketball player in the competition (by a wide margin, mind you), but the mind doesn’t exactly jump to Irving when 3-point specialists are considered.
The Cleveland point guard is a career 41.2% three-point shooter, who has even peaked at 42.5% so far this season, but he’s a game scorer/shooter who handles the ball a lot over a pure spot-up shooter. Then, he put on an absolute display from behind the arc on Saturday night, and it didn’t feel like a fluke. At all.
Irving coasted to an 18-point first round, but exploded in round two for 23 points, which was good for the best round of the night by any shooter. He converted 14 of his first 15 shots in the round (including the first seven), and not even an overly impressive 20-point showing from Matt Bonner could run down Irving. The newly renamed “Red Mamba” was the leader after the first round (with 19 points), and put up an equally impressive 20-point performance in round two, but it wasn’t enough. Irving maintained his shooting consistency throughout the night, seemingly using a “contest-friendly” stroke with less leg explosion, while Bonner seemed to tire visibly through the event.
I’d be remiss (especially in this space) if I didn’t mention the fact that Kyle Korver’s absence reigned over the night in my mind. The best shooter in the NBA (read this for evidence) wasn’t involved, and while Irving’s performance stands on its own, it would’ve been interesting to see how Korver performed. Paul George was presumably the Korver replacement, and he disappointed in a big way, looking overmatched for the competition, and generating only 10 points in his first round effort.
In the end, the night belonged to Kyrie Irving, and he went a long way in disproving doubters that thought he shouldn’t have even been selected. I won’t make the mistake of ignoring Irving in a shooting competition again, but it begs the question. What can’t he do?