After struggling with efficiency in his first three outings following Kevin Durant’s MCL sprain, Kyrie Irving, for the first time in his career, has posted three straight games with at least 30 points, five assists and five rebounds.
He started 30-7-7 against the Suns. Then 48-11-6 in a win over the Jazz. Ultimately, Irving had 38 points, nine assists and seven rebounds against just one turnover in Brooklyn’s 120-116 win over the Warriors on Sunday.
But I’m not here to highlight Irving’s offense. You know all about it. I’m here to highlight his defense, which, relatively speaking, has been pretty good for quite some time. The effort and attention to detail are evident, and the same footwork Irving uses to stun defenders when he’s on the ball is just as useful when he’s on the other side of the dance.
Watch here as Irving squeezes Stephen Curry from midcourt, cramming the screen space before performing a defensive slide clinic as Curry rejects the screen. He kills all possession, as when Curry abandons it, the Warriors are forced to ask Klay Thompson to create against a dwindling shot clock. Not dice.
Irving took over Curry’s assignment all night. He constantly took hold and challenged Curry to dribble him, and except for a couple of instances in the first half, Curry couldn’t do it. Look here at the end of the third quarter. Irving again puts a lot of pressure on Curry and then, isolated on an island, he remains disciplined as Curry tries to move towards some sort of breakup, which he fails to do.
Later in the quarter, Curry again finds himself one on one against Irving. He tries to go right and can’t get an inch of clearance. Irving completely disrupts his rhythm, so Curry loses his balance and travels.
The common denominator of all these plays is Irving’s persistence in filling Curry’s space with ball pressure and physicality off the ball. The former is usually asking for trouble, as Curry normally gets past guys trying to protect him so closely, but Irving can move his feet.
For the last point, the physical aspect without the ball, see the sequence below. Irving, after again harassing Curry with ball pressure, remains attached to Curry as he shuts down Golden State’s patented split action. Curry wants to go around a screen after the ball hits the post, but Irving is so glued to Curry that everything gets stuck. Then, when Nic Claxton jumps at Curry, Irving switches to a rolling Kevon Looney to thwart that option, and it all ends with Jonathan Kuminga having to force a shot and Ben Simmons fouling offensively.
That’s such a great thing from everyone involved. Claxton was amazing in this game. Simmons was good defensively and dished out 11 assists. Joe Harris made some big shots. Royce O’Neale was great, as he has been all season. A lot of guys traded Curry in this game and forced him to take tough shots. In the end, you could tell he was hesitant, almost lethargic trying to get to his places, which you don’t see often.
This is how you upset a great scorer. Curry still had 26 on just 16 shots. He went 4 of 8 from deep. You’re not going to shut Curry up. But you can win one possession at a time, and in the end, the cumulative effect of a connected switching effort and constant pressure on the ball can wear down even a superstar. From that point of view, this win had Irving’s fingerprints all over it on both sides of the ball. You know the offense. But when Irving plays defense like this, the Nets become significantly more dangerous.