One benefit to Kyrie Irving’s departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers: We get to see a more aggressive LeBron James down the stretch.
Not that James has been particularly passive late in games through years past. He’s always struck a nice balance. His first inclination is too pass, so he often does, and he’s spent the last three seasons playing beside Irving, someone worthy of his deference.
But Irving is gone now, and that has forced James to shoulder more of the scoring burden in fourth quarters. His 9.9 points per final frame leads the NBA by a wide margin; next up is Kristaps Porzingis at 7.5. And James readily admits, now, this has a lot to do with Irving’s absence, per ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst:
“The last couple years, Kyrie obviously being as great as he was in the fourth quarter, we kind of pick our games. There was games half the time that he had it going and, ‘Hey, go get it.’ There was games half the time where I had it going, and I’d go get it,” James said.
“Right now my teammates look at me and they’re like, ‘OK, like, this is your quarter, you’ve done this your whole career. Let’s try to make some things happen.’ It’s very important that I try to come through for them.”
James isn’t joking. He has the second highest crunch-time usage rage among the 187 players who’ve made at least five clutch appearances, according to NBA.com. DeMar DeRozan is the only one in front of him. And he’s posted a ridiculous effective field-goal percentage of 68.9 in these situations. The Cavaliers are also outpacing their opponents by more than 30 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor in crunch time, according to NBA.com.
Looking at James’ performance in these instances, it’s almost impressively troubling that the Cavaliers are just 7-4 during games in which neither side is trailing by more than five points entering the final minutes.