Irving and the Brooklyn Nets knew they had a tough road after injuries and the guard’s vaccination status dropped them to the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. However, no one expected them to get swept in the first round. Despite having two future Hall of Famers in Irving and Kevin Durant, the Nets were embarrassed, falling to the Boston Celtics in four games.
Losing early in the playoffs has become a common theme for Irving’s teams. He hasn’t made it past the conference semifinals since playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016-17. He is just consistently failing to get over the hump.
In fact, the sensational point guard is just proving one thing: He can’t win without LeBron James.
Kyrie Irving had great success with LeBron James
LeBron James returned to the Cavaliers in 2014-15, teaming up with Kyrie Irving – who the Cavs drafted No. 1 overall in 2011 – and eventually Kevin Love.
They had significant success together.
In their first year as a trio, Love suffered an injury during the playoffs, but Irving and James led the Cavs to the NBA Finals. Irving then only played in Game 1 due to injury, and James nearly carried the Cavaliers to a championship by himself. The Golden State Warriors, though, won the series 4-2.
In 2015-16, they got their revenge.
James, Irving, and Love led the Cavaliers to another Finals that year. After falling behind 3-1 in the series, they rallied and upset the 73-win Warriors in seven games. The Cavs were NBA champions.
The trio then took Cleveland to the Finals again the following season, but a Kevin Durant-led Warriors team won in five games. And after that 2016-17 campaign, Irving requested a trade from the Cavs.
The Cavaliers eventually dealt the Duke product to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and a couple of draft picks, including one that became Collin Sexton.
The guard has never given a straight answer as to why he left Cleveland, but Brian Windhorst initially reported that he wanted to be more of a focal point for a team and didn’t want to play with James anymore. We don’t know if that’s 100% true, but Irving has proven one thing since leaving: He needs LeBron to win.
Kyrie Irving needs LeBron James to win
You might think I’m being disrespectful. Kyrie helped LeBron win a title by hitting the game-winning shot in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. He is also one of the most skilled players to ever live. He has immense talent whether he’s on a team with James or not.
But facts show that he has essentially been nothing in the postseason without The King.
Before LeBron returned to Cleveland, Irving didn’t lead the Cavs to the playoffs once. He was young and the Cavaliers had a horrible roster, though, so we can give him a pass for the first three seasons of his career.
After he left The Land and joined the Celtics, Irving didn’t play in the 2018 playoffs due to injury. Boston, however, went to the Eastern Conference Finals without him and got within just one game of reaching the NBA Finals before losing to James and the Cavs in seven games. With the guard on the court the next season in 2019, the Celtics only made it to the conference semifinals and lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in five games.
Kyrie then signed with Brooklyn in 2019-20, and he didn’t play in the playoffs again that year due to another injury. But the Nets became the favorites to win it all in 2020-21, entering the postseason with Irving, Kevin Durant, and James Harden. That was until the guard suffered another injury, and Harden hurt his hamstring, resulting in a conference semifinals loss.
That leads us to this year. There were questions on whether the Nets could make it past the first round after falling to the seventh seed in the East. They also lost James Harden in a trade to the 76ers, and Ben Simmons never took the court for them.
But no one expected the Celtics to win in a sweep, which is precisely what they did.
Boston dominated Brooklyn in every area, and Irving and Durant struggled immensely. After scoring 39 points in Game 1, Kyrie averaged only 15.3 points on 37.2% shooting in Games 2–4. Had he actually played at the level he’s capable of, who knows how the Nets would have fared.
So, after making three consecutive Finals with LeBron, Irving has yet to make it past the second round since leaving him.
And his individual stats are also significantly worse.
Irving averaged over 25.0 points in the 2016 and 2017 playoffs. He also shot over 46.5% from the field each year. Since then, he hasn’t recorded more than 22.7 points per game in a single postseason, and he has made only 43.0% of his shots in his 22 playoff games.
Sure, the seven-time All-Star has dealt with unfortunate injuries in three of the five postseasons after leaving the Cavs. But even when he has been on the court, he has struggled to produce at the same level he did with James.
It appeared that Kyrie Irving left Cleveland to prove he could win without LeBron James. Instead, he has done the exact opposite.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference