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Frustrated All-Star Irving: 'I just don't have it right now'

Cavaliers' point guard dealing with knee, foot injuries

POSTED: May 21, 2015 8:40 PM ET
UPDATED: May 22, 2015 10:26 AM ET

By Shaun Powell

BY Shaun Powell

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Cavs' point guard Kyrie Irving driving to the basket has been limited due to a variety of injuries.

— If DeMarre Carroll is feeling friskier than Kyrie Irving today and tomorrow and thereafter, that says plenty about the amazing recuperative powers of Carroll (honestly, didn't you fear the worst after seeing that spill and crash in Game 1?) and lots about the ongoing suspicions about Irving's condition.

Both players are crucial to the Eastern Conference finals in their own way, but Irving was just named to the All-NBA third team and is LeBron James' designated co-pilot. He weighs more than Carroll. And it's never good when a player who carries that much of a load is in the locker room with his head in his hands, his right foot in an ice bucket and an ice bag on the left knee, as Irving was following Game 1.

Irving has a bum foot and creaky knee. When he runs around the floor, and we use the term "run" generously, his body squeaks louder than his sneakers. He's not 100 percent and may not enjoy full health this postseason. You can't hide injuries this time of year. The Cavs know it, the Hawks know it, and of course Irving knows it.

"I just don't have it right now," he said.

His night was rather light, along with his production (27 minutes, 10 points). With J.R. Smith raining jumpers on the Hawks, the Cavs didn't need to lean on Irving, and good for them. He re-aggravated the knee in the third quarter and that was it for him. But isn't that a bit of Fool's Gold, thinking Smith can deliver like that every night and they can beat the Hawks with Irving nothing more than a decoy who fools nobody?

"He's going to give us all he has," said Cavs forward Tristan Thompson, except Irving's will and determination isn't the issue; his ability to cope with constant pain is. Add the lack of off-days in between games and Irving's tolerance will be an ongoing issue for as long as the Cavs are alive.

If this were the regular season, Irving wouldn't even suit up. He came into this series with a five-day rest for his aching limbs but the Hawks went after him anyway, with Jeff Teague blasting away and scoring 27 points. It's a strategy the Hawks will grind until it turns bald or Irving discourages them from doing so. But with his body burning and begging for more recovery time, how will he do that? The idea is for the Hawks to see more of Matthew Dellavedova and less of Irving, and if that happens, it places pressure on LeBron to handle the ball and compensate for scoring. Suddenly, with Irving wincing and reaching for ice, the 2015 Cavs look like the 2007 Cavs.

GameTime: Irving And Carroll Updates

GameTime breaks down the latest on DeMarre Carroll and Kyrie Irving's injuries.

"The most frustrating thing is seeing holes in the defenses that I'm used to attacking," he said. "I tried to make one move and I accelerated and then I stopped and passed it."

It's really too bad about Irving. Until this, he's had a nice, productive, encouraging season. He has meshed with LeBron better than anyone could ask and worked hard on his defense, which has now been upgraded to acceptable. He was an All-Star. Two months ago he scored 57 points, and two months before that, 55. He's hit massive shots to win games. In a league saturated with solid point guards, Irving stands out, which isn't easy in a forest full of John Walls, Russell Westbrooks, etc., etc.

With his mobility limited, Irving might need to reinvent himself, which is tricky this late in the season. Can he survive on a menu of jumpers? He might not have a choice. Teague is a decent defender with quickness and is tough to blow past. And Teague likes to attack the rim and therefore Irving could be a defensive liability if the Hawks ask Teague to take more of a scoring load.

It's easy for someone to question Irving's toughness; that's always a knee-jerk reaction when a player struggles through pain. You can hear the chatter already regarding Dwight Howard and his knee. But Irving relies plenty on cutting and bursting and, well, try doing that on a bad foot and knee. And against an All-Star like Teague. And this late in the season when the body has been through seven months of pounding.

So this series, suddenly, is about health and pain threshold. The Hawks dodged a bullet when Carroll suffered no structural damage. Whether he'll still be a pesky and sticky defender against LeBron is still uncertain, though. Even if Carroll heals physically, what about the psyche of a player who becomes a free agent this summer and is looking for his first big payday in the NBA? Does he subconsciously apply the breaks and even if he did, could you blame him?

Then there's Irving, already secured by a max contract yet wondering if he can give max production on a pair of flat tires. He'll give it a try in Game 2 without any minutes restrictions and hope his limbs cooperate. In the very likely event the knee and foot don't make Irving's night problem-free, the Hawks can expect to see lots of Dellavedova, maybe even more of Smith.

And, oh, yes: Plenty of LeBron.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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