The Cleveland Cavaliers were down 110-101 to the San Antonio Spurs with less than a minute to play and it seemed like Kyrie Irving's amazing night was all for naught. He had 37 points at the time. Then Irving really went off. He went on a 9-2 run on his own to send the game to overtime, including a ridiculous game-tying shot at the buzzer that gave him 46 points. He didn't slow down in overtime, ending the game with a career-high 57 points as the Cavaliers won, 128-125.
Irving was unstoppable. He hit 20-of-32 from the field, and did not miss a three-point shot. He was 7-for-7 from deep. Plus, he dished out five assists for good measure.
The Spurs always get up to play against LeBron James. They did it when he was with the Miami Heat -- see last year's dominance in the NBA Finals -- and they certainly brought their best to the court for Thursday night's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. But it was Irving they should have been worried about.
Both teams looked sharp, each playing one of their best games of the season. The win gave the Cavaliers a 23-5 record in their last 28 games, the best in the NBA in that stretch. Even with the loss, the Spurs had won six in a row. The way both teams are playing now, this game could have been an NBA Finals preview. And that wouldn't be a bad thing, especially if it's full of point guard duals like the one on display Thursday night.
Even on Irving's stunning night, Tony Parker was great, too. He had 31 points, six assists and five rebounds. James was his usual self with 31 points, seven assists and five rebounds for the Cavaliers and the ageless Tim Duncan had 18 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in the loss.
The first quarter was full of crisp, fast-moving basketball. The Spurs led 31-30 in a back-and-forth affair full of highlights. The teams traded blows: James -- without his headband once again -- dunked thunderously and made an unbelievable pass through his legs, Tim Duncan stuffed home a put-back dunk, Manu Ginobli found Duncan with a pass maybe three other players in the NBA could have made.
The high-quality play continued through the second, and the game turned into a battle of two of the league's best point guards. It's when Irving took over, scoring 14 straight in the second quarter to keep Cleveland in the game. He had 22 in the first half. Tony Parker matched Irving to keep the Spurs in the lead, though. He had 19 points and five assist in the first two quarters as the Spurs led 64-62 at the half.
Both teams settled down in the third quarter, as play slowed and both teams started missing shots. Not that the intensity cooled. It never did.
Irving didn't shy away from it. He drove through the lane to make a slew of twisting, falling lay-ins. And he kept the Cavaliers in it, even though they trailed for all of the second half. He willed them to victory in the final minute and overtime, hitting shots no matter who was guarding him.
The win was the biggest of the season for Cleveland, who looked fit to win an NBA title. The only thing to worry about was Kevin Love's continued nonexistence for the Cavaliers. Not only did he have just eight points on 2-of-10 shooting and four rebounds, he didn't play in the fourth quarter. James and Irving are doing their part in Cleveland's "Big Three," but Love is being left behind. No other Cavaliers stepped up, either. Besides Irving and James, the roster lacked against the Spurs, who don't have a hole in their roster.
Not that it mattered on Thursday. Kyrie Irving had the performance of the year to lead his team to a win in the game of the year of this NBA season. Earlier this season, he asked James, "If this is what the playoffs are like?" He's ready for them now.
SB Nation presents: Stephen Curry's dominance over the NBA
3 other things we learned
Rudy Gobert is terrorizing the NBA. Gobert had 14 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks in the first half of the Utah Jazz's over the Houston Rockets. You read that correctly, that was just in the first half. Gobert ended the night with 19 points, 22 rebounds and four blocks. And he was 8-of-11 from the field. Gobert and the Jazz were unstoppable against the Rockets, who needed a rebound win after falling to the Portland Trail Blazers the night before. Instead, the Rockets looked tired. James Harden had 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the loss. Credit the Jazz where it's due, however, they shut the Rockets down. It wasn't just Gobert who played well, Gordon Hayward had 29 points and seven assists. It was the Jazz's fourth win a row. They're too far back to threaten for a playoff spot in the West, which is something the rest of the conference should be very, very happy about. Oh, and watch this:
The Washington Wizards were good enough to beat an extremely depleted Memphis Grizzlies squad in an ugly game. It took a while for them to get going, but John Wall and the Wizards easily dispatched the Grizzlies, picking up a 109-91 win at home. Any win is a nice win for a Wizards team that had lost 13 of their last 18, but the Grizzlies were without four key players. Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Jeff Green all watched from the sidelines as their teammates struggled. The Wizards started slow, trailing at the end of a lackadaisical first quarter -- Wall zoned out on defense twice in the first -- but they turned things around in the second and didn't look back from there, not that the Grizzlies had much to fight back with. Wall was exquisite with 21 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. A night facing bench players was a welcome break for the Wizards -- their next six games come against Western Conference foes.
The Indiana Pacers are looking more and more dangerous. The Pacers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 109-103 in overtime, and now they're just 3.5 games back of the Bucks for the sixth best record in the East. The Pacers have now won seven in a row and 10 of their last 11. They look like they're going to be a handful for whoever they end up facing in the first round. Rodney Stuckey led the Pacers over the Bucks, scoring 25 points and adding six assists and six rebounds. All five Bucks starters scored in double figures, with Michael Carter-Williams leading the way with 28 points, eight rebounds and four assists, but it wasn't enough to beat a Pacers team that will not go down easily.
Play of the night
We can watch that again, right?