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Derrick Rose's Defensive Domination of Kyrie Irving

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DRose didn't just dominate Kyrie offensively. He also really contained him on the other end.

Jamie Sabau

One of the popular narratives that came out of the Bulls-Cavaliers' game on Monday was that Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose were the next big point guard rivalry in the NBA. This was mostly to do with Rose scoring 30 points, and Kyrie answering with 28 points. Weeeeeell, about that. It really wasn't that close. Rose did most of his offensive damage while being guarded by Irving, as Kyrie played over 38 minutes. On the flip side, Rose played just 24 minutes and Kyrie did most of his damage with Rose off of the floor. It goes without saying that 30 points in 24 minutes is more impressive than 28 in 38 minutes.

Kyrie finished the game going 10 of 19 for his 28 points, with 8 free throw attempts. Those numbers look really great and had most of that damage come against Rose, it would have been very impressive, as Derrick has quietly made himself into a very, very good point guard defender. However, Kyrie's points didn't come mostly with Derrick on the floor. Irving was only able to get 8 shots up while Rose was on the floor (he made 4 of them), but only 3 of those shots came with Rose actually guarding him (he made only 1). Kyrie was also able to draw 3 fouls on Rose, resulting in 5 free throws (he made 4 of these). All told Kyrie was able to score just 6 points while guarded by Rose, and as I'll point out, four of those points were gifted him by bad calls.

Having gone over the broad strokes, let's dive in to the tape.

In Kyrie's first shot attempt while being guarded by Rose, the Cavs ran a high pick and roll between Varejao and Irving. Derrick navigates the screen expertly and is able to contest Kyrie's long two-point jumper, forcing the miss.

Late in the fourth quarter, Kyrie is able to get his second shot up against Rose in a half-court offense. Kyrie makes a quick cut off of a lackluster rub screen by Kevin Love towards the top of the key, Derrick is able again to recover and contest the shot, forcing the miss.

Midway through the third quarter, Rose took an obvious charge on Irving in transition. It was called a block, giving Irving the opportunity for an And-1. Kyrie missed the free throw. In the gif below, you can see Rose very clearly beat Kyrie to the spot and take the charge in a textbook manner. Rose was rightfully infuriated by this call and was saved from getting a technical by his teams carrying him away from the refs.

Refs will get calls wrong, but in terms of thinking probabilistically, you have to imagine that the refs will get that call right more often than not, even if they got it wrong this time. So in analyzing the game, noting Rose making the right play is more important here than worrying about the negative result caused by a bad call.

My belief in the refs getting things right most of the time notwithstanding, the refs gave Irving another questionable call earlier in the game, again in transition. Rose sprints down the court to get ahead of Irving. Rose keeps his hands elevated straight up and keeps himself in front of Kyrie without making much, if any, contact, but the refs still gave Irving the call as he stumbled and flailed on his Eurostep.

The one legitimate foul, to my eyes, that Irving drew on Rose was when he got Derrick in the air late in the fourth quarter and then lunged into him for the shooting foul. Rose wasn't really running hard to recover to Irving here, and it's worth wondering whether he was tired by this point, as he's still getting his in-game condition up to snuff. That's something to watch.

You can see the difference in Rose's effort level by looking at on the below play from the first quarter where Derrick fights over a LeBron screen and pressures Irving and gets into his body, forcing a bad pass turnover.

So yeah. Kyrie Irving did not light up Derrick Rose in near the same way in which Rose lit him up, despite their relatively similar stat-lines. Kyrie shot 50% when Derrick was on the floor, but he went 1 of 3 with Rose specifically guarding him, and the one make should have been a turnover due to Irving's uncalled charge. Kyrie was able to feast when the Cavs were able to force a switch from the Bulls defense, putting a lesser defender on him and also on Aaron Brooks when Derrick was on the bench. This is a matchup that the Bulls should win this season going away. I don't think it's all that close. Kyrie Irving is one of the worst starting defensive players in the league, if not the worst, and Derrick Rose should be able to continue to dominate him on offense. On the other end, Rose has really ratcheted up his defensive intensity and should be able to largely neutralize Irving on offense.