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Cavaliers push forward despite Irving's injury scare

POSTED: Dec 12, 2014 2:21 AM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury

NBA.com

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Though OKC ended their 8-game win streak, Kyrie Irving and the Cavs look to sustain momentum.

— These are those kinds of times when you learn about yourself.

When you're Kyrie Irving and you go up to challenge a routine jump shot by Russell Westbrook and you bump knees and come down with your left knee at such an ugly, unnatural angle that some people in the stands actually turn their heads away when the replay is shown on the giant video screen.

Kyrie Irving Injury

Kyrie Irving injures his knee attempting to close out on a Russell Westbrook jumper.

When you're LeBron James, sitting out the night yourself with a sore knee, and one minute you're watching the action on a TV inside the visitors locker room and the next you're sprinting down the hallway wearing nothing but a pair of tights and a t-shirt and running out into the arena to help pick your teammate up off the floor.

When you're first-year NBA coach David Blatt and you get hit right between the eyes with the crushing thought that an eight-game winning streak is suddenly just water running through your fingers.

"Fear. Worry. Concern," Blatt said when asked to describe his emotions at the moment when Irving hit the floor with 1:31 left in the second quarter Thursday night. "And hope. Which ultimately won the day.

"There's a great saying in Russian, which means: 'Hope dies last.' And thank goodness he got up and he was able to play."

It is no exaggeration to say those who did watch the replays with eyes uncovered inside Chesapeake Energy Arena were shocked to Irving standing back on the baseline bouncing all around and loosening up before the end of halftime.

That's because in the instant Irving went down at least a few courtside observers that were thinking of University of Miami running back Willis McGahee, whose knee seemed similarly bent when took a blow to his left knee in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. He suffered a torn ACL, PCL and MCL.

But 22 seconds into the third quarter Irving dropped in a running seven-foot floater that was lighter than air.

Love and Kyrie

Kyrie Irving sinks the floater from Kevin Love.

What your learn is that you can cope.

"I was just really scared," Irving said of the collision with Westbrook. "I was hoping that nothing was torn because when it happened I felt something. Then we did all the tests back here and I was just thankful, truly blessed by God that nothing serious happened.

"I definitely felt something buckle. I was really scared. But we have the best training staff and the biggest thing when something happens like that is opening your eyes and kind of saying everything's gonna be alright, no matter what the verdict is. So I had to just get my bearings together.

It was a scary play. I still haven't looked at it. I won't look at it. I'll be alright though."

In those first few seconds, after all the worst thoughts raced through his mind, Irving was able to calm himself down.

"Steve Spiro, our head trainer just coming out there and letting me know the necessary steps to take and when to bend my knee and how to control my body to make sure I'm alright," Irving said. "He takes a look at it and asks me if this is OK and that's OK and just make sure I can get up and walk to the locker room.

"When we came back in the tunnel the Thunder's doctor looked at me. I told our training staff as I was walking back and LeBron and D. (Damon) Jones were helping me, I kinda started walking on my own and we did some tests and decided to go back out there.:

Irving nodded at the memory of James literally being there to pick him up and support him.

"It meant a lot, just that he sprinted out in just his tights and his t-shirt," Irving said. "It's just great. He's awesome and sincerely cares and that's just the relationship that we have going around this whole entire locker room. We're more than teammates. We're friends and to know that your teammates care about you like that, it goes far."

Those friends spent the day telling themselves that there was no reason to be be alarmed or even concerned that for the first time this season James was being scratched from the lineup for the anticipated showdown with Westbrook, Kevin Durant and the surging Thunder. They told themselves it was just "general soreness" in James left knee and their leader was just taking a night off to be cautious.

Those friends eventually fell behind by 20 points early in the fourth quarter without James, yet managed to hang together and sliced OKC's lead all the way down to four with two minutes left before losing 103-94.

Cavaliers vs. Thunder

Russell Westbrook scores 26 points with 8 assists and 7 rebounds, Kevin Durant adds 19 as the Thunder top the Cavaliers 103-94.

"It's one of those tough losses, but nothing that we can complain on," Irving said after scoring 11 of his team-high 20 points after the fall. "We just gotta keep competing like we did, not give up and keep fighting."

Irving said he'll see how he feels in the morning, but expects to play Friday night in New Orleans. James is day-to-day.

They're still a team in the formative stages, getting to know habits and routines and personalities and characteristics about each other.

That eight-game winning streak that followed an uneven start to the season showed the league that the Cavs can be daunting when everything is running smooth.

But the real time to learn is through adversity when toughness as much as a smooth jumper is required.

"I think we've been showing that for quite some time," Blatt said. "I'm glad that's slowly but surely becoming a big part of our identity.

"You know, there's good losses and bad losses. You could probably classify this as a good loss although it will not help me to gain more sleep."

But it probably helped them learn a little more about themselves.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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