The first six weeks of the NBA season have been a celebration of Kyrie Irving, who has stepped to center stage with the Boston Celtics and led them to a breathtaking 18-3 record, including a handful of remarkable fourth-quarter comebacks. Fully on display now that he's away from LeBron James, Irving's existing talents of clutch playmaking and isolation wizardry have captured attention. The key, though, seems to be turning both ways. Irving has clearly been unlocked to a degree, especially late in games. But so has James, and the results are equally extraordinary, if not as attention-grabbing as more focus was aimed toward the Cleveland Cavaliers' rocky start. Like Irving, James is in the midst of some of the finest clutch play of his career. In clutch time -- defined as the last five minutes of a game when the score is within five points -- Irving leads the league with 65 points thus far. James is second with 60. Field goal percentage in those situations? James is first leaguewide at 62.2 percent; Irving is second at 61.5. James is first in the league in fourth-quarter scoring, putting up 168 points and averaging 9.3 per game. Irving is fourth in fourth-quarter scoring with 125 total points. Last season, James and Irving ranked 20th and 21st, respectively, in total clutch scoring, per ESPN Stats & Information. Breaking them apart has allowed each to shine. "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." Even outside of so-called crunch time, James' fourth-quarter dominance is striking. He's first in fourth-quarter assists, points in the paint and even blocks. He has the best fourth-quarter field goal percentage at 57 percent -- Irving is tied for 12th at 50 percent -- and James is in the top 10 for fourth-quarter 3-point percentage at 39 percent.
Breakup with Kyrie Irving has unlocked the best of LeBron James
ESPN | Nov 27