On Wednesday, Kyrie Irving scored 55 points to help lead his Cleveland Cavaliers past the Portland Trail Blazers, 99-94. With LeBron James out of action nursing a sprained wrist, Irving carried the Cavs offense by putting up the highest single-game point total in the league this season.
Afterwards, James took to Twitter to express how dazzled he was by Irving’s play:
Just watched live one of if not the one greatest performances by a person and he happen to be my teammate/runningmate/brother @KyrieIrving!!
— LeBron James (@KingJames) January 29, 2015
We’ll give James the benefit of the doubt on this one and assume he’s not actually referring to all “performances by a person.” But even as far as 50-point games in the NBA go, how does this one really stack up?
Irving’s showing was extremely impressive in two statistical areas:
Kyrie Irving and Joe Dumars are the only players in NBA history to make 10 3-pointers and 10 free throws in the same game.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 29, 2015
The Cavs point guard went 10-for-10 at the foul line and 11-for-19 from beyond the arc. By scoring 21 extra points on free-throws and three-pointers, Irving was able to get 55 while making only 17 shots from the field.
Since 1964-65, there are just eight previous occasions where a player scored 55 or more points on 17 or fewer field goals. Deron Williams did it most recently in 2012 and James pulled it off in 2009. The six others to accomplish the feat are Gilbert Arenas, Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Reggie Miller, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson–not bad company for Irving to be in.
However, despite putting up 55 points on 17 made baskets, it also took Irving 36 attempts to do it. It prompts the question, “Aren’t there a lot of NBA players who would score that much if they shot that many times?”
Apparently this was a common thought directed towards Pro Basketball Talk’s Kurt Helin:
Why, if someone like Kyrie goes off for 55, there are tweets in my timeline saying “if Player X had 36 shots…”? Celebrate the game people
— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) January 29, 2015
In response to Helin, it’s not at all surprising for people to wonder what others might be capable of doing with that many shots. In several ways Irving’s numbers represent one of the least efficient 50-point outings in recent memory. There are only four previous times since 1985-86 that a player reached 50 while making 17 or fewer out of at least 36 attempts.
Even though he was perfect at the line and connected on 58 percent of his threes, Irving shot just 6-for-17 on two-pointers (35 percent). Going back to 1985-86, no one has ever before scored 50 while shooting less than 36 percent on two-point field goals.
Three other players have eclipsed the 50-point mark in the past 10 months. Klay Thompson did it while shooting 64 percent, Mo Williams hit 58 percent and Corey Brewer knocked down 63 percent of his field goals. On Wednesday Irving shot 47 percent from the floor overall.
Four games is obviously a very small sample size. But in the last 29 years, there have been roughly 200 contests in which a player has scored 50 or more points. Irving’s is just the 11th such occasion where the one who did it shot less than 48 percent from the field.
Whenever an NBA player goes for 50 it’s obviously a special occurrence. There’s also no denying that Irving’s 50-point outburst is on the low end of the scale.