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Battered Cavs keep brave face, but latest injury is devastating

Without Irving, how can Cleveland keep up with Golden State?

POSTED: Jun 5, 2015 9:20 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


GameTime: Who Steps Up For The Cavaliers?

The GameTime crew discusses who needs to step up in the absence of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

— Like it or not, grim reality and truth in advertising demands that the Cleveland Cavaliers edit that postseason slogan of theirs.

From #ALLinCLE to #AILin'CLE,

The rotten news Friday afternoon that All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving was done for the rest of the 2015 Finals after suffering a fractured left knee cap late in Game 1 at Oracle Arena Thursday hit hard. It sure wasn't what the NBA, ABC/ESPN or even the Golden State players and coaches wanted to hear -- the Warriors don't need any asterisks attached if they push their 1-0 series lead all the way to an NBA championship.

But for Cleveland, losing Irving -- after losing forward Kevin Love just four games into these playoffs, on top of losing center Anderson Varejao way back in the regular season -- seemed almost cruel and decidedly unfair. As if there's ever anything kind or fair to debilitating, heartbreaking injuries.

The Cavaliers went through their official practice and media obligations Friday before Irving's diagnosis from the Stanford Sports Medicine Cline was in. Most of their comments were measured -- preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. But when the MRI exam was complete, showing the fractured knee cap that will require surgery in the coming days back in Cleveland, there was nothing mixed about the news.

It was a full body slam to the Cavaliers' title hopes, leaving only their stiff upper lips unscathed.

"There are a few things that you would love to have going late in the season," LeBron James said. "That's being healthy, having a great rhythm, and then you need a little luck as well.

GameTime: Kyrie Irving

The GameTime Crew discusses the news that Kyrie Irving will miss the remainder of the playoffs.

"We've had a great rhythm. We haven't had much luck, and we haven't been healthy. But I haven't gotten discouraged. I understand the moment that I'm in, and I'm not too much worried about the game. I'm worried about the moment. I'm happy with the moment. I'm excited to be in this moment once again, and I'm going to stay strong for my team, no matter who is or is not in the lineup."

Spoken like a true leader. Then there was Irving himself, posting a photo and message to the team on Instagram not long after his 2015 Finals dream ended and his summer just got a lot more rehabby.

Irving's message: "I want to thank everyone for the well wishes. Saddened by the way I had to go out but it doesn't take away from being a part of a special playoff run with my brothers. Truly means a lot for all the support and love. I gave it everything I had and have no regrets. I love this game no matter what and I'll be back soon. To my brothers: You already know what the deal is. And to Delly: "ICE it down del" *Big Perk voice *"

There are a few things that you would love to have going late in the season. That's being healthy, having a great rhythm, and then you need a little luck as well. We've had a great rhythm. We haven't had much luck, and we haven't been healthy. But I haven't gotten discouraged.

– LeBron James

"Delly" is Matthew Dellavedova, Cleveland's backup point guard who will have to do far more, and much better, than he did in Game 1. The feisty Australian was scoreless in more than nine minutes, during which the Cavaliers got outscored by 13 in the eight-point overtime loss.

Irving was a team-best plus-5 in his 43-plus minutes before suffering this latest leg injury, which occurred when he tried to stop quickly against defender Klay Thompson and felt what he described afterward as a sharp pinch in his knee. Until Thursday, Irving had been battling tendinitis in that left knee, itself a compensating injury developed after he played on a right foot sprain suffered way back in Game 2 of the first round.

Dellavedova, wrapping up his second NBA season, struggled Thursday, as might be expected of a young sub playing back in the market where he attended college (St. Mary's). But he showed against Chicago in the Eastern Conference semifinals that he could step in for Irving and help the Cavaliers; he averaged 8.3 points, 3.7 assists and 23.3 minutes in that series, hitting 53.1 percent of his shots overall and 9-for-21 from 3-point range.

GameTime: Warriors Plan For No Kyrie Irving

The GameTime crew discuss how the Warriors react to the Cavaliers loss of Kyrie Irving for the rest of the series.

He kept up his pesky defense and timely offense in the next round against Atlanta, igniting some controversy over his hustling, reckless, some-alleged-dirty floor work. More than that, though, what the Cavaliers need from Dellavedova is someone to initiate offense and spell James from constant ball duties.

"It was great experience," Dellavedova said of his past two rounds, "and I'll be ready for whatever the team needs."

Also he, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert will have to do better than their combined 6-for-23 for 17 points in Game 1. It's a legitimate question whether Cleveland, with James as its only potent source of scoring, can put up enough points to keep up with a fully healthy, locked-and-loaded Warriors squad even once, much less four times in six games.

Ron Adams, Golden State's so-called defensive coordinator among Steve Kerr's assistant coaches, talked of the difference in Cleveland with Dellavedova vs. Irving on the floor. "He's done a good job of moving the ball," Adams said. "They add a really scrappy defensive player. ... A different look. It's just one more thing we have to adjust to."

What Adams left unsaid was how Irving is so much more dangerous when healthy, a player who can break down defenses, score over the top of them and finish at the rim like few other guards in the NBA. That guy doesn't figure into the Warriors' strategizing any more, a good thing up until the point where it becomes a source of overconfidence.

It would be easy for the Warriors to fall into that trap. Already in this postseason, they have had the good fortune of facing teams whose point guards were banged-up or absent (Memphis' Mike Conley, Houston's Patrick Beverley, now Irving). Then in Game 1 Thursday, James scored 44 points, Irving matched MVP Steph Curry basket-for-basket and that still wasn't enough. Now with Irving out ...

"The minute we start thinking that way we're in big trouble," Kerr said. "That never enters our mind. We have to do what we did [Thursday], only better. We have to compete like we did, but we've got to execute better."

The Warriors have to avoid whatever potential potholes they can conjure up from their advantageous position. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, will try to claw their way up from the bottom of a deep, dark well.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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