When LeBron James makes one of his signature chase-down blocks, wherein the 6-foot-8 position-less superstar seems to drop from the ceiling to swat an opponent’s feeble attempt at a layup into the stratosphere, it’s no longer surprising. Not only has James been doing it for most of his career, but his physical attributes and claim to the title of “Best Player in the NBA” make it almost a foregone conclusion that he will hunt you down and eliminate your shot, even if you see him coming.
Kyrie Irving is not LeBron James. He stands just over 6-foot-3, neither bigger nor smaller than the average NBA point guard. His defensive deficiencies (e.g., his difficulty completing the pick and roll and staying in front of quicker, more nimble point guards) have hounded him throughout his career. Chase-down blocks are not something we normally associate with someone of Irving’s stature or skill set.
But maybe we should start.
Irving’s vicious block of Dennis Schroder’s layup attempt in the waning seconds of the Cavs’ Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 1 win over the Atlanta Hawks sealed the victory, which was very much in doubt after the Cavs blew an 18-point, third-quarter lead. Schroder turned Irving around as he drove past him to the hoop, but Irving recovered and met Schroder at the apex of his jump, stopping the layup attempt in its tracks with his left hand.
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Though they don’t happen in every game (Irving averages 0.8 blocks per game for his career), Uncle Drew has come up with massive blocks at key intervals during his five-year NBA career. As a rookie, he chased down then-Charlotte Bobcat D.J. Augustin and erased his layup at the hoop after Augustin thought he was all alone on the fast break.
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The following season, Irving continued his career-long torment of fellow point guard Brandon Knight by defiantly rerouting his shot attempt into the Cavaliers bench, sending Cavaliers TV commentator Fred McLeod into a frenzy. “That ball will never be the same!” McLeod exclaimed.
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Perhaps his best denial, though, came in Game 1 of last year’s NBA Finals, a few minutes before he dislocated his kneecap and missed the rest of the series. With 29 seconds left and the Cavs and Golden State Warriors tied at 98, Steph Curry raced around Irving only to have his layup repudiated at the hoop by Irving, who again expertly used his left hand to smack the ball away. The play gave the Cavs a chance to win the game in their final possession, and although it didn’t come to fruition, it was one of the biggest defensive plays of Irving’s career.
So don’t sleep on Irving’s shot-blocking ability. You might find the ball you thought would fall through the net end up in the third row of the crowd, while a sheepish grin creeps across Irving’s face.