INDEPENDENCE, Ohio - Kyrie Irving doesn't shy away from the big shot or the big stage, so it should have come as no surprise that he starred in his first career NBA playoff game.
In his dazzling 30-point performance Sunday in a 113-100 win over the Celtics, the fourth-year Cavaliers guard and 2014 NBA All-Star Game MVP played as if he had been under the bright lights of the postseason many times.
"I just thought that was a continuation of what has already been a really great season for him," Cavaliers coach David Blatt said after practice Monday. "Kyrie is a veteran NBA player, although he's young, and he's a guy that can play on the big stage because of his abilities, his belief in himself and the confidence that his teammates have in him."
Now that Irving, 23, is done being asked about his first playoff game, what will he do for an encore? That's what many people will be looking for Tuesday night in Game 2. But more eyes will be on LeBron James, and that's an advantage for Irving.
Irving was the Cavaliers' franchise player during his first three years in the NBA. Now James gets more attention on and off the court, and he's one of the game's best playmakers. All of that has made the game easier for Irving and Kevin Love, also in the playoffs for the first time.
"LeBron is a champion," Irving said. "Me and Kev don't really have that experience. We're all learning from each other. The biggest thing is you want that as a competitor. As you prepare and get ready for the postseason, you want your best players to be at their best."
Irving, who averaged 21.7 points this season, is a dynamic guard who turned heads almost immediately after being drafted with the first overall pick in 2011 following one season at Duke.
Irving was the MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge and the Rookie of the Year and won the 2013 three-point contest. When he played for the USA Select team that practiced against the Olympic team in 2012, he caught James' eye.
"When he was on the Select team and he played against us, I thought he was very, very good and very special and I thought he could be very, very good in our league from that point," James said. "He's a confident kid. He believes in his ability. He works on his game. He just goes out and lets it show. I'm happy to be on his side."
There had been rumblings that Irving, who played high school basketball in New Jersey, was unhappy in Cleveland and reportedly was interested in playing for the Knicks. But Irving agreed to a five-year, $90-million extension with the Cavaliers last summer -- and he made that decision before James decided to come home.
Now Irving is focused on what this group can accomplish in Cleveland.
"It makes it easier for me that I have guys like this that have my back and are consistently giving me confidence," Irving said. "It makes my job easier and I can just be myself. Now that it's the postseason, we just have to lift each other up every single game."