With LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons all sitting out Monday’s marquee matchup between the Nets and Lakers, Kyrie Irving and Patrick Beverley — two masters of their respective crafts — stole the show at Barclays Center.
Irving scored a game-high 26 points in the Nets’ victory, but only two of his seven made shots came with Beverley as his primary defender.
Irving shot two-of-eight from the field when defended by Beverley versus five-of-eight against any other Lakers defender.
Almost everywhere Brooklyn’s superstar guard went, Beverley followed.
Irving wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“Some other guys would probably use that word [irritating], but for me, [when it comes to] Patrick, I enjoy the competitive spirit that he brings out of me and he brings out of other people,” Irving said after the game. “If you can get by him, if you can score on him, then I feel like you can score on the majority of people in the league. That’s the respect I have for him.”
Beverley relished the challenge, as well.
“Obviously wise words from a wise man,” Beverley said to he Daily News of Irving’s comments. “[He’s] the ultimate competitor. Master of his craft. The master at that position to ever play. It wasn’t easy tonight, but it’s always been like that. I make sure I get my rest the night before I play Kyrie for sure.”
One of the best sequences of the night left Durant laughing from the sidelines, reenacting some of the moves Irving attempted to put on his defender.
The crowd bubbled with anticipation as Irving worked through the motions. With Beverley draped all over him in the high post, Irving used a series of jab steps and shoulder fakes to create separation before driving baseline to draw a swipe-down foul on Beverley.
Beverley, who had already picked up a technical foul for arguing a call in the first quarter, showed his frustration with a facial expression.
Then Irving missed the first free throw, and Beverley let him know he didn’t think there was a foul. The two shared a smile before Irving made the second foul shot.
“He doesn’t get rattled. He’s not one of those guys who you can try to bark at him and he’s fazed by that. He’s a real, real live basketball player. So all the gimmicks and that s—t, that s—t don’t work against him,” Beverley told The News. “I like to consider myself a master defensively — but you talk about a master offensively. A guy who could literally do anything with the ball, who puts so much pressure on your defense every night, when he has it [going].
“You’ve gotta be ready for anything. I’m hurting right now. Body hurts. Extra treatment, extra all that because [of the] energy I spent on Kyrie Irving today.”
Shots Irving normally makes rimmed out.
The step-back mid-range jumper clanked off right iron. The walk-up deep three almost got blocked.
Irving used a move you expect to see in a video game: a stutter-step hesitation, between-the-legs crossover into a driving hop step to attack Beverley in transition.
It didn’t work. The fading close-range two rolled out.
Irving’s only two baskets with Beverley as his primary defender were a transition three after the Lakers guard turned his back, and an isolation driving left-handed floater that increased Brooklyn’s lead to 13 with three minutes left in the fourth.
“You just can’t be scared of him. You’ve gotta understand he’s gonna make some tough shots. He gon’ take some tough s—t [and] he’s gon’ make it. You know what I’m saying?” Beverley said. “You gotta be ready. You gotta defend him, you’ve gotta be aggressive, you’ve gotta go at him because he’s gonna keep coming at you.”
In his career, Irving shoots nearly three percentage points worse against teams Beverley plays for than he does against any other team. He is shooting 44.6% against Beverley’s teams and 47.2% against the field.
Beverley has never outscored Irving in any of their matchups. Irving is averaging just over 25 points per game, above his career average, in the nine times he’s seen Beverley in his career — but Beverley’s teams are 6-3 all-time against Irving’s over the years.
“I love Kai because every time I bump into Kai, we always keep this personal chart we have from when we always matchup,” Beverley said. “Obviously he’s in the East and I’m in the West, so we don’t really see each other a lot, but when we do it’s always like, ‘OK Pat I won tonight. OK Pat, good one.’ So it’s always a good vibe with him.”
Irving’s response to Beverley’s trash talk was to keep reminding him that Monday night was about securing a win. The Nets blew a 19-point lead but rallied back from down seven to win by 17.
Beverley still holds the head-to-head record by three wins. The former First Team All-Defense selection made a name and a living for himself as one of the league’s most irritating defenders.
It makes for one of the best battles in all of basketball when he and Irving line up across from one another.
“When we’re out there, it’s gonna be back and forth. It’s gonna look like he’s doing a lot, but from where we’re from, and growing up in the trenches, and playing against guys like that, it’s nothing new,” Irving said. “I welcome the challenge, but I just kept telling him that the objective of the game is to win. So me going back and forth with [him] right now and trying to score over [him] every single time is not really where my energy is. ‘I’m just tryna win the game, Pat.’
“And a few times I missed shots and he’s like ‘That’s off! I told you you was gonna miss!’ I’m just looking at him like, ‘The objective is to win, Patrick. I’m not really gonna get into this,’ but it makes the game a lot more fun.”