Don't talk to Kyrie Irving about assists. He does not care what you think.
This used to be a sensitive topic for Irving and that in itself was revelatory. A pure score-first guard, he has dealt with doubters off and on as he has matured as a player and, at times, it got to him. But he has gotten over it whether anyone likes it or not.
In Monday's Game 1 against the Toronto Raptors, the Cleveland Cavaliers guard established a playoff career high when he racked up 10 assists in the win. The most spectacular of them was the first, when he bounced a pass off the backboard to LeBron James for a thunderous, high-speed dunk.
That qualified as a breakout after Irving had only 12 total assists in the Cavs' four-game sweep against the Indiana Pacers. In the closeout Game 4, he had none.
Perhaps it's tempting to remark that is a rather low number for a point guard who has played in 39 playoff games. Perhaps it's tempting to return to James' edict from his first week with Irving two seasons ago, when James told Irving he could never have a no-assist game.
Go for it, if you want. You're not going to make a difference.
"I'm just going to go out there and be myself," Irving said after scoring 24 points in a strong overall Game 1 performance. "Whether I have zero assists or 10 assists ... there's no implement or focus going in that I need to make more plays or get my teammates involved. I'm not going to do that anyway just by the style I play."
At the start of the season Irving told a story about the celebratory scene after the Cavs won the NBA title last June in Oakland. In the moments after the victory, Irving's father, Drederick, and sister, Asia, found him on the floor. They were surprised that Irving wasn't celebrating.
"I was waiting for more questions about, 'What about you shooting on this possession?' Or, 'What about you doing this or that?' I was done," Irving said in training camp. "I was so defensive that I didn't celebrate right after we won. I just hugged my dad and my sister. My dad is looking at me like, 'What's wrong?' I'm telling him, 'I'm waiting for someone to come up and say something to me about what happened during the game.'"
The first two games of the Finals, Cavs losses, Irving totaled five assists. He had one in Game 2, a lopsided defeat where the Cavs were overmatched. Back then the familiar questions rose again about Irving's isolations, about his preference to use dribble moves to create space instead of looking for teammates, about general ballhoggery.
Then it was coach Ty Lue who pulled Irving aside and told him he didn't care what anyone wrote or said, he was to play his game. His game, sometimes, means hogging the ball. It is not uncommon for him to eat the majority of the shot clock as he rocks, shakes and changes speeds while he teammates stand idly watching.
"I played pretty crappy the first two games and everyone made their decision on who I should be as a player, what I should be doing out there and all these so-called experts were saying this," Irving said in September.
"Everyone internal was telling me and looking at me eye-to-eye and telling me to just be myself. There was nothing else to be. 'There was no one else you need to be, you don't need to try to be a 10-assist or 11-assist guy in the Finals.' It was all that. Once I accepted the noise and accepted the moment, everything was fine from there."
And he's fine now. And whether he has 10 assists or zero in Game 2, you can be assured his attitude will be the same.
"I don't go out there with the intention to have zero assists; sometimes it just happens that way," Irving said Monday. "Sometimes the assist may not fall in my hands, it may fall to one of my teammates. I'm fine with that."