Starting with the good: Kyrie has had one heck of a summer. As widely reported, he became the 4th player in NBA history to win an NBA title and gold medal in the same year, joining Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and LeBron James. His monstrous performance in the Finals sparked debate about whether or not he was better than 2-time MVP Stephen Curry. It also inspired yours truly to write about how he might be in the MVP running next season.
Irving played with his typical flare during the Olympics, regularly shaking guys off the dribble for floaters inside of 12 feet. He handed out 5 assists in three separate games and dished out an impressive 12 dimes in group play against France. He made his free throws, he made moves that brought crowds to their feet, and he was the starting point guard on the team that ultimately won the gold medal. Like I said, it's been a good summer.
I'd love to share videos of his performance but NBC has aggressively removed all clips of the Rio Olympics from social media for licensing (and anti-fun) reasons.
The reality, however, is that Kyrie might not have been that good in these Olympic games.
When looking at the box scores it's hard not to notice that the three closest games of team USA's run were the three games that Kyrie played the most minutes. He logged 30 minutes in the first Serbia game, 27 in the France game, and 25 in the Spain game. He shot OK in those three games - 3/6 against France, 5/8 against Serbia, and 5/9 against Spain. But in a style that felt all too familiar to Cavaliers fans, Kyrie Irving was on the bench almost anytime Team USA needed to step up their defense.
It was the 2nd unit that seemed to make moves against Argentina and Serbia (the 2nd time), and that unit featured Kyle Lowry being a bulldog on defense. This trend continued as the final game was close for the first 8-10 minutes before USA ran away with it in the 2nd and 3rd quarters with bench-heavy lineups.
In that gold medal game the first thing we saw was Irving bungling a scoring attempt and throwing the ball away. Two possessions later he held the ball at the top of the arc for 10 seconds, passed it, and walked to the other side of the floor to watch a missed 3. The offense looked stagnant and unimpressive for most of the time Irving was on the floor. On the other end, Team USA gave Irving an easier defensive responsibility, having Klay Thompson guard Milos Teodosic, as he was the more active guard for Serbia.
What did Serbia do? Immediately attacked Irving anyway.
It's not a great feeling to know that Serbia decided their best chance at beating team USA in the championship game was to go at Kyrie Irving, who we Cavalier followers see as being one of the top players in the NBA.
Watch it again if you can; in the first four minutes of the game Irving missed jumpers, turned the ball over, and was the target of Serbia's offense. He also elicited a major "oohhh" from the crowd as he danced against a big man, shook him, then passed up the layup for a tougher step-back jumper and missed.
In the big picture, none of this really mattered.
Irving ended up in foul trouble and only logged 17 minutes on the afternoon. He tallied 4 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 fouls. It might be a complete over-analysis of his time on the floor, but it didn't exactly boost my confidence. When Jason Concepcion wrote an article about the Kyrie Irving conundrum last week - essentially saying that if Kyrie is missing shots, he's not very good, but when he's making them he's top-tier - I wanted to scoff at him.
The Olympics made that feel a little more accurate.