Kyrie Irving's Shooting Is the Key to His Playoff Success

Tuesday night, Uncle Drew went off, posting a career playoff-high of 42 points. How did it happen?

The Boston Celtics are up on the Cleveland Cavaliers 43-33.

Offensive foul on LeBron James.

Bron-Bron heads to the bench with number four.

It's the first half of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Cavs, it appears, are hosed.

The King had 10 of his team's first 33 points, and sidekick Kyrie Irving was off to a slow start, with just six points on 1-of-4 shooting. But the moment James' fanny hit the pine, Irving kicked it into Uncle Drew mode.

Kyrie's Mind-Blowing Game 4

After James' fourth foul, Irving played a total of 28:44, during which he produced 36 points on 14-of-18 shooting, including a 4-of-7 effort from three-point land, and hitting all 4 attempts from the stripe. That all sussed out to 1.25 points per minute and a point every 47.88 seconds over that stretch.

In spite of a sluggish start, Irving finished the game averaging 1.01 points per minute and a point every 59.21 seconds.

Uncle Drew would be proud.

Irving's lights-out shooting and per-minute efficiency translated into one of the best playoff stat lines of his Cavs career. According to Basketball Reference's Game Score, the point guard's mark of 32.1 was the second-best of his career, trailing only his Game 5 performance (33.2) in the Finals a year ago.

Rounding Into Playoff Form

Over the past three years, we've come to expect this kind of playoff play from Irving. But man, did Kyrie get off to a lousy start this postseason.

Courtesy of our numberFire Live platform, here's Irving's performance rating (on a scale of 0 to 100) and nERD (a player ranking measuring a player's overall contributions, based on efficiency) for all 12 of his 2017 postseason games.

Irving - 2017 Playoffs nF Live Rating nERD
ECF, Gm 4 100 57.07
ECF, Gm 3 81 31.12
ECF, Gm 2 79 29.68
ECF, Gm 1 44 -5.70
Rd 2, Gm 4 71 21.87
Rd 2, Gm 3 41 -8.70
Rd 2, Gm 2 70 20.21
Rd 2, Gm 1 67 17.59
Rd 1, Gm 4 61 11.01
Rd 1, Gm 3 5 -44.38
Rd 1, Gm 2 71 21.88
Rd 1, Gm 1 23 -26.64

In the Cavs' first-round series against the Indiana Pacers, Irving's nERD never once made him Cleveland's best, most-efficient performer -- in fact, only once (Game 2) was he even in the top three. (He shouldn't feel too bad. Kevin Love's been balling out, and that LeBron guy is pretty decent.) Come the Eastern Conference semifinals, Irving picked up his play with three ratings of 67 or above and a nERD good enough for top three on the team in Games 1, 2 and 4.

In Cleveland's four games against Boston, we've enjoyed the playoff Kyrie we know and love. So far, he's averaged a 28.04 nERD, with three games as a top-three Cav and team-leading marks in Games 3 and 4.

All About Shooting

How did Irving turn it around? The numbers tell us that he just started, you know, making shots.

Irving - Usage vs Shooting nF Live Rating nERD Usage Rate True Shooting Percentage
ECF, Gm 4 100 57.07 35.1% 80.9%
ECF, Gm 3 81 31.12 24.0% 84.3%
ECF, Gm 2 79 29.68 26.0% 87.1%
ECF, Gm 1 44 -5.70 19.2% 44.6%
Rd 2, Gm 4 71 21.87 32.7% 51.5%
Rd 2, Gm 3 41 -8.70 32.5% 37.3%
Rd 2, Gm 2 70 20.21 35.9% 49.8%
Rd 2, Gm 1 67 17.59 28.9% 60.1%
Rd 1, Gm 4 61 11.01 33.1% 49.9%
Rd 1, Gm 3 5 -44.38 35.7% 33.9%
Rd 1, Gm 2 71 21.88 40.7% 70.6%
Rd 1, Gm 1 23 -26.64 36.0% 41.9%

If we look at the correlations between usage and rating/nERD, as well as true shooting percentage (which accounts for threes and free throws) and rating/nERD, we have a concrete picture of a man who found his stroke.

Correlation Usage Rate True Shooting Percentage
Rating -0.1097 0.8285
nERD -0.0904 0.8277

The higher the correlation, the better the relationship, which means that Irving's ratings and nERD scores go up as his true shooting goes up. Inversely, usage has had a slightly negative correlation with Irving's performance. So, when I say higher usage rates have effected Irving's true shooting marks in a slightly negative way, it isn't so shocking.

But if Uncle Drew continues to shoot like this...

...nothing the man does should shock us.