Last night’s game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Portland Trail Blazers was one of the most electrifying of the season. From the beginning of the game until the final buzzer it had fans on the edge of their seats. It finally ended with a bang with Damian Lillard hitting a game-winning three point shot to end it with heartbreak again for Cavalier fans. However, the most intriguing matchup was Kyrie Irving going up against Lillard. Irving had 25 points and 10 assists while Lillard had the game-high with 36 points and 10 assists.
Both of these players are two of the best young point guards in the NBA. Irving is averaging 21.1 ppg with 6.0 assists while Lillard is averaging 20.7 ppg with 5.8 assists. While their numbers are nearly identical, Lillard’s assist totals are a bit shocking since he is on a team that has better talent. LaMarcus Aldridge is top ten in scoring this year on the Trail Blazers. Irving is the only one in the top 15 in scoring on the Cavaliers, yet he has the better assist total with lesser talent.
The second leading scorer on the Cavaliers is Dion Waiters, and he is in the top 50 with 14.9 ppg. As far as overall talent, that is where both of these players are different. Irving came into the league projected as a star coming out of Duke. Lillard came in as a great college point guard out of Weber State, but it was not known if his talent would transfer to the NBA. I think we can all agree it has. Irving’s game is filled with flash and smoothness while Lillard’s game is more textbook and old fashioned.
Irving will slash and dash a defender before taking it to the basket while Lillard will drive straight to the hole and try to draw the foul. They represent the new era of point guards as they are both athletic and scorers. There are not many prototypical point guards left like Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and John Stockton. The closest would be Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers. Both players are also speedsters. It takes them both approximately 4.5 seconds to drive to the basket from half court.
That is rather fast. However, the most incomparable difference between them is the ” killer instinct.” Lillard would get the edge in that. Many will say that Lillard has more of a chance to close out games because of defenders worrying about Aldridge. They also have to guard the three point line with Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum on the wings. However, when double teamed and closed out upon in the clutch, Lillard has seemed to always come through and rarely shows any emotion. That is called ” ice water” in the veins.
Irving, on the other hand, is the only player teams worry about in the clutch. Waiters can sometimes be a worry to defenders, but most teams key in on Irving as the threat. While he has closed out games and won them in the final seconds, defensive pressure is so extreme that it makes it merely impossible to make a play. Besides Jarrett Jack and Waiters who both come off the bench, there are no other players on the Cavaliers that can create their own shot. However, in the last few games the offense has been ran smoothly and hopefully contributes to easier shots for everybody.
When it comes to defense, Irving is ahead of Lillard slightly. A prime example of this was late in the game when they both were one on one. Irving pump faked a shot, and Lillard went flying into the hoop sideline. This was a crucial moment in the game, and it ended up giving the Cavaliers the lead. Lillard has even mentioned improving his defense coming into this season. He sometimes looks uninterested in playing it, and it leads to easy scores from the opposing team.
Irving, while atrocious last year defensively, has improved significantly. Mike Brown has helped in this process. He is averaging 1.1 steals a game, compared to Lillard’s 0.9. At times he does have lapses, but he recovers and closes his guy out. He is not Gary Payton or Kidd just yet, but players cannot get past him or shoot without worrying about the ball being stolen.
We have only seen a small sample size of what both these young phenoms have to offer, but hopefully more is to come.