It’s time to include Kyrie Irving in the MVP conversation.
There, I said it. Let the Twitter hate rain down. After watching Irving stick it again to the Knicks on Monday night, one has to wonder exactly what he has to do to be considered one of the best players in the game.
Irving is averaging a career-high 28 points and doing just about everything the Nets need to win games. That was on clear display Monday night when the Nets were missing two-thirds of their Big 3 for the majority of the game.
There was a new level of intensity from both the players and the fans heading into the final Knicks-Nets game of the season. The Nets are the best team in the East and perhaps the best team in the NBA, but the Knicks are the local team with the most passionately loyal fans.
This season, for the first time in a long time, those Knicks fans have something to be excited about. The Knicks are 30 times better than anyone sane thought they would be. (Yes, I know 30 x 0 = 0, but you get the sentiment.) Not only are the Knicks playing like a team that can win on any given night, they are talking like a team that believes they can win on any given night. Witness the new level of trash talk heading into the game when Julius Randle and Reggie Bullock made it clear they were tired of hearing about the Nets "Big 3" because the Knicks had their own "Big 15."
Well, the Nets needed only a Big 1 to beat the Big 15 and sweep the season series with the Knicks. With Kevin Durant out with James Harden having left early in the first quarter, Irving was all that was left of the much ballyhooed Big 3. And he was all that was needed.
Irving scored 40 points, including a three-pointer over Elfrid Peyton with 59.3 seconds left, to lead the Nets to a 114-112 win in Brooklyn. In other words, despite playing through an almost constant double team, he made sure everyone watching knew who exactly was the best player on the floor.
"We tried two on him about the whole game," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game. "He’s seen about every defense…..He’s a great talent. You have to be on it the whole game."
It was not, of course, the first time Irving has tortured Knicks fans.
Irving is the architect of the Nets' super team. He is the player who convinced Durant to pick the Nets over the Knicks and other teams. He is the one who convinced him to team up and sign with the franchise Irving grew up watching when they played in New Jersey. He is the player who made the Nets a destination, a place the disgruntled James Harden wanted to play.
He is the person most responsible for forming a team that could very well bring a championship to the New York area for the first time since the Giants won the Super Bowl on Feb. 5, 2012. And an NBA championship to the New York area for the first time since the Knicks did it in 1973.
Irving is the only member of the Big 3 not to have won a MVP award, but he should have a shot this year.
No one in the running has made more adjustments than Irving this season. Though one of the best ballhandlers in the history of the game, he ceded point duties to Harden and found a way to take his game to the next level. With Durant having missed so many games, Irving has stepped in as the team’s primary scoring option. His 28.0 points per game rank sixth in the league, and he still is averaging 6.2 assists.
Irving is always going to have his detractors. Some are put off that he sat out seven games for personal reasons this season. (I am not one of them.) Others buy into the myth that he is hard to play with and hard to coach. (This year, that is definitely not the case.) And then there’s the flat-earther thing. (OK, that’s weird. But who hasn’t said something stupid when they were younger.)
It’s hard to ask anything more from Irving than what he’s shown this year. This is his team. He formed it. He deserves some credit.