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We’d Be Lucky To See Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving In the NBA Finals Again

Kyrie Irving thought, before all of us, that he was Stephen Curry’s peer. Fortunately for us, he’s proven himself correct.

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Saturday night was the kind of night Kyrie Irving probably envisioned when he took his fate into his own hands and asked out from beneath LeBron James’ mighty shadow.

Think about it: it was Irving who hit one of the biggest shots in NBA Finals history when the Cleveland Cavaliers toppled the Golden State Warriors, but LeBron James who received most of the credit.

During the 2016 NBA Finals, it was Irving who averaged 27.1 points on 47 percent shooting from the field, including 40.5 percent from behind the three-point arc, and it was he who emerged with James as the best players in a Game 5 that saw each of the two score 41 points and help get the Cavs to the Game 6 that they needed.

Irving never was LeBron’s sidekick—he was always his peer.

Irving knew. We didn’t.

* * * * * *

Just who are the Boston Celtics?

Are they eventual bridesmaids who will suffer the same fate of some of the great teams of yesteryear? Good enough to play for all the marbles but not good enough to take them?

It’s early, and we don’t know. But at this point, Irving can already be considered to have won as it relates to his forced divorce from James.

When Irving made the decision to pursue his own path elsewhere, he mentioned the Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks among the teams to which he would welcome a trade. Only a player with supreme confidence (or arrogance, which is what many people translated Irving’s request as) would have been willing to “trade down” in such a way.

Irving did it excitedly.

Deep down inside, he wanted to prove that, with his own team on his back and the rest of the Warriors on his hip, he could look Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in the eyes and tell each of them that he belonged.

Even without Gordon Hayward, Irving has done that. Meanwhile, in his wake in Cleveland appears to be an aging, unmotivated team whose return to the NBA Finals for a fourth straight year appears quite far away.

When the Celtics defeated the Warriors in Boston earlier this season, in the game’s aftermath, Curry said that he was curious to see what the weather was like in Boston in June.

In a similar way, truth be told, we’re all wondering what a Finals matchup between the Warriors and Celtics would look like.

At this point, we have enough of a sample size to conclude that Curry and Irving seem to bring out the best in one another. On Saturday night, Curry’s 49 points (on 16-for-24 shooting from the field) sent a clear message to Irving: I’m still the top dog.

Irving, to his credit, led the resilient Celtics back from a fourth quarter deficit and had a few opportunities to tie the game for his club. The Warriors, in the end—and to nobody’s surprise—were a bit too much.

That the Celtics have mostly stood toe-to-toe with the juggernaut, though, is.

Irving turned in 37 points of his own. He converted his first seven shots of the night before ending up having gone 13-for-18 from the field.

Curry himself agreed that we should be rooting to see the two go at it a tad more.

What’s most interesting about Irving and his career to this point is how he’s been such a magnificent inlier. Earlier in his career, despite his individual brilliance, he was unable to lead the young Cavs to many wins. In this very space, it was wondered whether he was just the second coming of Gilbert Arenas.

With James’ return to Cleveland (it seems so long ago, doesn’t it?) the initial questions that surrounded Irving were related to whether he got “empty numbers,” whether he could contribute to a winning team and whether he would be able to play within the type of team concept that LeBron’s first big three in Miami rode to success.

Again, Irving passed that test with flying colors.

As the years have progressed, the narratives and questions surrounding Irving and who he actually is and what his capabilities are have continued to be question in a way that’s tantamount to moving the goal post. Along the way, we’ve doubted him, we’ve diminished his accomplishments and we’ve loudly proclaimed his game to be full of inefficiencies and shortcomings more than celebrate him for what he truly was.

Now, fortunately for all of us, we’re witnessing his growth into being one of the game’s elite leaders, not just scorers.

And fortunately for us, we now know that Irving belongs in the same class as the NBA’s other superstars—LeBron, Durant and Curry included.

Kyrie was simply never meant to be Robin.

* * * * * *

To this point, Curry and Irving have squared off against one another 24 times—11 times in the regular season and 13 times in the playoffs. Curry’s team is 15-9.

Since the beginning of the 2015 calendar year, Curry has won five of the eight regular season matchups.

Years later, it’s so easy to forget that Irving was injured during Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals, a game in which he recorded 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists before exiting. The Cavs trailed by four points with two minutes remaining in Game 1. They would eventually go on to lose the series, but who knows how things could’ve gone if Irving hadn’t gotten hurt.

The following year, Irving made good, and last year, the Warriors exorcised the demons that haunted them after squandering their 3-1 Finals lead.

In their 13 career playoff matchups, Irving is averaging 27.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists on 46.8 percent shooting from the field, including 39.5 percent shooting from three-point territory. Curry’s 24.5 points, six rebounds and 6.2 assists are just as impressive. Curry happens to lead the playoff battles 8-5, as well, it should be noted.

But no matter which way you slice it, it becomes fairy obvious that Irving and Curry are one of the better rivalries we’ve been privy to over the past few years. That the two have played in different conferences mean we’re only able to witness them go at it a few times each year, but when they perform the way they have, it makes the wait worth it.

Curry seems to think he’ll see Irving in the NBA Finals this year.

The two have long been rivals and peers; James’ broad shadow just blocked our view.

Irving knew it, and we’re lucky he did.

So while Curry ponders what the weather is like in Boston in June, the NBA’s viewing public should only hope that he gets the opportunity to find out firsthand.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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