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Kyrie Irving's insane clutch shots against the Spurs, graded

It's not just that Kyrie Irving scored 57 points against the Spurs. It's that he did so on incredibly difficult shots.

Kyrie Irving didn't just score 57 points to lead the Cavaliers to an incredible comeback victory over the Spurs. He scored 57 points against one of the league's best defenses without really having any good looks.

In celebration of this performance, we'd like to show you just how difficult each of Irving's 20 made field goals actually were. Without further ado:

kyrie 1

THE TIME: 11:23 left in the first quarter.

THE PLAY: With nothing else developing, Irving bounces the ball to Kevin Love in the high post before peeling off a flare screen by Timofey Mozgov. Tony Parker goes underneath the screen with plans to meet Irving closer to the basket should he fade to the corner. The defensive plan works, but Irving calmly jabs into Parker's legs and nails the 14-foot stepback jumper. Textbook.

ANNOUNCERS: "From outside, and ... ties the game at two. Kyrie Irving hitting it over Tony Parker." - Kevin Harlan


kyrie 2

THE TIME: 3:43 left in the first quarter.

THE PLAY: The Cavaliers sent Love to screen for Irving going right towards the sidelines. Boris Diaw steps out in an attempt to trap Irving given the circumstances, but he pulls away once Love fades to the 3-point line. (Turns out Kevin Love in a pick and roll scares defenses after all. Maybe try that sometimes Cavs!)

Parker does a good job to stay with the play, but Irving gets his shoulders in front and dribbles directly into his path going back to the middle, a common practice known as "snaking." That takes Parker out of the play and gets Irving into the middle of the paint. Tim Duncan would normally come and challenge Irving here, but Mozgov positions himself between Duncan and Irving, essentially boxing him out from helping. All that's left is a left-handed floater that very few players can make.

ANNOUNCERS: "(mid-ramble about Tim Duncan playing through injury) Here's Irving, with a nice pop by (pause) by Mozgov, who kind of backpeddaled his way into setting the screen." - Kevin Harlan

"That was nice of Mozgov setting the little screen there. (Starts analyzing the great Tim Duncan play on the previous possession)." - Chris Webber

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: 7 out of 10 for the whole sequence. All the great point guards snake dribble, but few do it in that little space.

kyrie 3

THE TIME: 2:06 left in the first quarter.

THE PLAY: We often take Irving's greatest skill for granted: his ability to score around the basket. Irving can't jump like Russell Westbrook, John Wall or Derrick Rose, so he relies on his touch to finish against bigger players. Look at that screenshot again. You can barely see him because Tiago Splitter has shielded his body like a New York City skyscraper, yet Irving is still able to flip a left-handed shot off the wrong foot softly onto the rim for the score. (That's his off-hand, by the way).

The setup is equally impressive. The Cavaliers run a pick-and-roll at the top of the key where a man screens James Jones, who then screens for Irving. Here, both players make an instinctual play that only the smartest pros make. Irving baits Parker into thinking he's going right, then delivers a vicious crossover to go the opposite way. As he does that, Jones shifts positions so that he's now blocking Parker's path to recover from having his ankles broken. Jones' man, Diaw, is completely out of position because he's preparing to trap Irving going right, so Kyrie has a free run down the lane.

kyrie 4

ANNOUNCERS: "Look at the moves by Irving inside!" - Harlan

"His ball-handling is just ridiculous. He really has the ball on a string. You see all the kids with the ball now with plastic bags over the ball because Kyrie Irving has such great handles to beat the trap." - Chris Webber

(If you're confused, this refers to an actual workout Irving's made famous).



THE TIME: 6:48 left in the second quarter.

THE PLAY: Nothing fancy. Just a pull-up 19-foot jumper off a Mozgov screen.


(Charles Barkley finishes extended Spurs thoughts)

"Irving picks up the basket right there. He's got eight. David Blatt said that Tuesday in Dallas, he played a beautiful game against the Mavs." - Harlan

"He did play a beautiful game. Actually, this whole team to me showed their composure, showed they're really ready to gear back up." - Webber



THE TIME: 5:12 left in the second quarter.

THE PLAY: The finish is a carbon copy of Irving's third hoop. He gets into the lane, where a Spurs big man (Duncan this time) awaits. To score over him, Irving jabs right, throws in a vicious Eurostep going back left and somehow floats a left-handed layup -- again, this is his weaker hand -- over the towering arms of Duncan and off the glass for a layup.

The setup was nice too. Critics say Irving sometimes dribbles too much, and had he missed, that criticism would return in full force. But all those dribbles were necessary because the Spurs shut down the Irving/Mozgov pick and roll going right. For it to work, Mozgov had to flip the screen to spring Irving back middle and Irving needed to set Parker up with a series of dribbles. Eventually, Kyrie ran Parker into Mozgov's pick and was free for the tough finish.

ANNOUNCERS: "Irving tries to carve his way by Duncan." - Harlan

"What a play." - Barkley

"I'll tell you what. This Eurostep, Chuck, you're a big fan of (Manu) Ginobili. Ginobili, Dwyane Wade, in my opinion, those are the two guys with, being able to just get their footwork so complete that you can just not get a charge, not knock down a player, step by and still shoot the layup." - Webber

"It's amazing." - Barkley



THE TIME: 3:56 left in the second quarter.

THE PLAY: Seeing an opening in transition, Irving attacks downhill and hits Parker with a crossover. Parker stays with him nicely, but it doesn't matter because Irving can float a righty runner into the hoop while fading to his left.

ANNOUNCERS: (Listening to Rachel Nichols' sideline report about Kevin Love.)

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: 8.5 out of 10.


THE TIME: 3:36 left in the second quarter.

THE PLAY: It's the very next play. Irving again looks to attack on the move, but this time, he goes baseline, fights through Parker's attempts to pin him on the sideline and comes up on the same side of the hoop for the basket and a foul.

ANNOUNCERS: (Still listening to Rachel Nichols' sideline report about Kevin Love.)



THE TIME: 3:05 left in the second quarter.

THE PLAY: Dribble, dribble, dribble, pull-up three. Heat check. Good god.

ANNOUNCERS: "Chris Webber, Kyrie Irving has scored the last 11 points for the Cleveland Cavaliers." - Harlan

"You have to love the way Kyrie Irving is playing, but he's going to have to pick up his play. Before the All-Star break, his numbers were better than they are now. You see him getting his rhythm back ..." - Webber

(Pauses to watch shot that'll make him sound silly in retrospect.)

"When he's taking shots like that, he's saying, 'I GOT MY RHYTHM BACK.' I'm not getting it back. I got my rhythm back." - Webber

"That's kind of like LeBron and Kawhi Leonard thing earlier. He's taking this Tony Parker thing personally, because Tony Parker is torching him on one end." - Barkley



THE TIME: 37 seconds left in the second quarter.

THE PLAY: Tired of Irving lighting up Parker, the Spurs switch Danny Green onto Irving. Green pressures Irving full court, using his pterodactyl arms and superior lateral quickness. This is tough defense.


No matter. Kyrie fends him off, gets all the way to the basket and floats it over Green and Tim Duncan while jumping off the wrong foot again. Unfair.

ANNOUNCERS: "Irving. RIGHT. DOWN. THE. MIDDLE. Fending off the defense of Green." - Harlan

"I mean, first of all, the ball handling to get there, but then to hold him off with one hand. It just seemed like he knew from the beginning that he was going to go and score that ball." - Webber

"Kyrie Irving has had a 16-point scoring second quarter." - Harlan



THE TIME: 7:23 left in the third quarter.

THE PLAY: Cleveland runs a nice weave action that gets Irving curling off a series of baseline screens into a dribble handoff involving James and Mozgov. Irving uses the double ball screen nicely, but Parker stays in pursuit. With Duncan hanging back again, Irving elects to pull up for three even though Parker is right behind him. It's a terrible shot. It goes in anyway.

ANNOUNCERS: (Desperately trying to get Barkley off an Auburn tangent.) "How about that shot? Twenty-five for Irving." - Harlan

(Barkley continues with Auburn tangent)



THE TIME: 6:20 left in the third quarter.

THE PLAY: Another high pick and roll, another pull-up three. Duncan actually gives Irving respect and challenges the shot nicely, but it doesn't matter. This looks like the half a dozen 3s Stephen Curry rained in the Warriors' second-round series against the Spurs in 2013 before his ankle acted up.

ANNOUNCERS: "OOOOOOO EEEEEEEE Irving from outside." - Harlan

"Kyrie's going right back at (Parker.)" - Barkley

"WHHHHOOOOO." - Harlan

"That's how I'd do it. I'd make him guard my threes." - Webber, a power forward who should never have shot a three in his career, even though he did.

"Irving has got 28 on 17 shots. Parker's got 23. The two point guards going at it head to head." - Harlan

"I love this, man. You cannot beat this competition." - Barkley



THE TIME: 55 seconds left in third quarter.

THE PLAY: Textbook point guard play. Irving runs right off a pick and roll, gets Manu Ginobili on his hip, bumps off him to create space and knocks the floater off the glass before Duncan can contest it.

ANNOUNCERS: "Woo! That was nice." - Barkley

"How about Kyrie Irving, who continues to score. Now with 30. Irving the other night had 22." - Harlan

(Anthony Davis unibrow joke, for some reason.) - Barkley



THE TIME: 8:36 left in fourth quarter.

THE PLAY: Iman Shumpert gets a steal and Irving runs straight down the middle of the court. Splitter keeps backpedaling, so Irving keeps going. Eventually, he jump-stops outside the restricted area and powers through Splitter off two feet for the hoop just as two other Spurs are running in to stop him.

ANNOUNCERS: "The galloping Kyrie Irving ALL THE WAY FOR TWO." - Harlan

"See, they're much better, obviously, in a fast-break situation. The only time they struggle is they get stagnant on the offensive end in the half court. When you play one-on-one basketball, it's hard to score all the time." - Barkley

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: 7.5 out of 10.


THE TIME: 8:04 left in fourth quarter.

THE PLAY: Irving fake spins to the baseline, goes back the other way to dart through a tiny hole in San Antonio's pick and roll coverage, and steps in front of Splitter going back to his left. It honestly looks like he disappeared for a second, only to reappear in a flash. All that's left is a tough lefty (again: weak hand) finish over the outstretched arms of Green. This is my best attempt to illustrate his movement.


ANNOUNCERS: "They better get it before Tony Parker comes back ..." - Barkley


"Curly Neal is somewhere saying, 'Yeah, I like that. I used to do that for the Globetrotters.' Look at this ball-handling. And then being able to finish." - Webber

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: 786 out of 10.


THE TIME: 56 seconds left in fourth quarter.

THE PLAY: This is the absurd shot everyone forgot about. Irving set up Tristan Thompson for a layup, but he missed. No worries, because Irving flew in for the rebound, turned and fired towards the basket in one motion while three Spurs clobbered him. Basket and a foul. No big man can do that, much less a point guard.

ANNOUNCERS: "OHHHH. Nice dive inside by Irving." - Harlan

(Barkley is too busy pleading with the Thunder not to rush Kevin Durant back from his foot injury because it ruined Andrew Toney's carer in Philadelphia.)

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: 802 out of 10.


THE TIME: 31 seconds left in fourth quarter.

THE PLAY: Irving looked like he would pop to the top of the key, but he sharply pivoted to the corner off a Thompson screen. Green stayed right with him, pinned him on the sideline and didn't go for his shot fake. No matter.

ANNOUNCERS: "Green defending. WHAT A THREE. That was terrific." - Harlan

"That was. That kept them in the game." - Barkley

"Forty-three for Kyrie." - Harlan

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: 800 out of 10.


THE TIME: 0 seconds left in fourth quarter.

THE PLAY: The buzzer beater. It's true Irving has a sliver of daylight because Leonard briefly addresses the threat of James Jones going to the corner. That was probably a mistake by Leonard, but he closes out perfectly to make up for it. This is what Irving sees when he releases.


It's an impossible attempt. Doesn't matter.


"Wow." - Barkley

"They'll check it out. They'll review." - Harlan

"Wow. Wow." - Barkley

"It's a tie game at the end of regulation. Five-of-five 3-point shooting for Kyrie Irving. What a shot and 46 tonight." - Harlan

"Chuck, you said you wanted (the Spurs) to foul before the hand got up. Well, they didn't do it. Look at this pick. No switch!" - Webber

"I don't know what they were doing in this situation, but I always believe in fouling. I will tell you this, and I hate to say it. As great as my boy Kawhi Leonard has played tonight, this is his fault." - Barkley

"It's almost as if Kawhi thought he was going to continue to drive, so he hesitated for a second. With a guy like Kyrie Irving and his handles, you don't know if he's going to keep his hands up. You don't know how to guard him when he has the ball with a live dribble. They should have doubled and taken the ball out of his hands." - Webber

"Nah, they should have just fouled." - Barkley

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: 78,532 out of 10. Way too much hand-wringing on what the Spurs did wrong from TNT's announcers. That was an amazing shot.


THE TIME: 3:29 left in overtime

THE PLAY: After an offensive rebound, it looked like Irving would pull it back out to the top of the key. Instead, he whipped out a dirty crossover that probably destroyed all the bones in Danny Green's ankle to free himself for a corner three.


"Wow." - Barkley

(Everyone else is speechless)

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Just a 9.5 out of 10.


THE TIME: 2:34 left in overtime

THE PLAY: The Spurs switch a Irving/James pick and roll, leaving Leonard on Kyrie. Leonard presses, so Kyrie gets low and tries to explode by Leonard going right. Kyrie hears a whistle and pulls up for a 16-foot runner, the kind of shot you throw at the basket just to look like you were in the act of shooting on a foul. It banks in off the glass.

ANNOUNCERS: "Fifty-one. Fifty-one FOR KYRIE IRVING." - Harlan, voice rising with every word

"Wow, what a show. (Pause.) What a show." - Barkley

"And this is Cleveland's first lead since late in the second quarter when they led by two." - Harlan

"LeBron, his teammate, just looks over here and goes, 'Oh, look what my teammate is doing.' You have to love how LeBron loves having some help. He's saying, 'Go ahead, do your thing. I can take over if you need me to.'" - Webber



THE TIME: 1:20 left in overtime

THE PLAY: As LeBron isolates Green, Kevin Love runs over and sneaks in a flare screen for Irving to fade to the opposite 3-point line. It takes Irving's man out of the play, but Diaw alertly switches as Irving catches James' crosscourt pass. The Spurs have this play well-defended.

It doesn't matter.

ANNOUNCERS: "Irving. Diaw there. Another triple. (long pause.) EVERY CHAMBER IS FILLED FOR KYRIE IRVING TONIGHT. FIFTY-FIVE." - Harlan

"Wow. Oh my goodness." - Barkley

(Nobody has anything else to say. What else can you say?)

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: 10,000 out of 10

(All screenshots via TNT)


SB Nation presents: Kyrie Irving's dominant finish against the Spurs