With Mariano Rivera looking on from a courtside seat, Kyrie Irving played the role of the closer on Saturday night in Brooklyn.
After the Knicks suddenly found their defensive footing and battled back to within three in the fourth quarter, Irving caught fire to continue his torrid six-game stretch, netting 21 points in the final period, including a contested stepback 3-pointer from way beyond the top of the key to ice the victory.
“Just staying poised and letting the game come to me, and just throwing the rest of the three quarters out the window, whether I’m playing well or not,” Irving said. “just trying to stay aggressive for my teammates.”
Irving finished with 32 points and nine assists, knocking down five triples, none bigger or more awe-inspiring than his Damian Lillard-esque triple to extend the lead to eight with 50 seconds remaining.
For Irving, that 3-pointer put him past the 30-point mark on the night, becoming the first player in franchise history to score at least 30 points in six straight games.
“Being able to understand what the team needs and what shot is needed,” Brooklyn head coach Jacque Vaughn said of Irving’s elite ability to close games. “I think he’s in a great position of what’s needed, and delivering the need.”
When the Nets needed breathing room early in the fourth quarter, after New York had pulled within six after being down as many a 19, Irving scored eight points in the opening minutes of the fourth to put Brooklyn back in front by 14. The Knicks battled back again, making it a one-possession game before Irving scored eight straight points, two coming from triples from beyond 26 feet to ignite the Nets fans in a relatively split Barclays Center, though the advantage in the rivalry has been anything but split since Irving arrived in Brooklyn. In fact, it's hard to call it a rivalry at this point.
“If the NBA calls it Rivalry Week, then it’s a rivalry,” Irving said. “I’m cool with that.”
Irving is now averaging 36.3 points per game over his last six, and in familiar fashion, saved his best for last, just when the rival Knicks were flirting with a comeback and a potential fourth straight win.
Instead, Irving made sure the Nets made it nine in a row against their Big Apple rivals.
Irving’s 21 points in the fourth brought his season total up to 356 on the season, the most in the NBA, and his 9.4 points per game in the fourth this season is also tops in the league, per StatMuse.
It’s the kind of numbers that would make The Sandman proud.
Follow Ryan Chichester on Twitter: @ryanchichester1
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