The Cleveland Cavaliers are, once again, adjusting on the fly in this year’s playoffs. This time it’s on a bigger stage, against an even better opponent.
And, as Kyrie Irving crashed to the floor while driving past Stephen Curry in Game 1, it seems as though the Cavaliers’ chances in this NBA Finals crashed down with it.
A broken kneecap and a dislocated shoulder, the two injuries that ended the seasons of Irving and Kevin Love, have probably decided their season. It’s too bad, as a fully healthy NBA Finals would have been a sight to see. But this Cavaliers team won’t go down without a fight, so how will they adjust without a second superstar?
Matthew Dellavedova will likely slide into the starting lineup for the Cavs, as a shout out on Instagram from Irving likely alluded to, alongside Iman Shumpert, LeBron James, Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov. This five-man lineup has been used for 42 minutes this postseason, the fourth-most used by David Blatt, and has outscored teams by 27.6 points per 100 possessions, per Basketball-Reference.com. Yes, that includes lineups with Irving.
The second-most efficient five-man lineup for the Cavs in these playoffs has been when Blatt goes small and puts J.R. Smith in for Mozgov. This is the second-most used lineup by Blatt this postseason at 52 minutes, and it has outscored teams by 20.0 points per 100 possessions.
Obviously these numbers must be taken into context, as a lot of these minutes were against a battered Atlanta team in Games 2 and 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but it shows the team has gone through a similar situation before and has had success.
The biggest thing for the Cavs at this point is for James to continue playing efficient basketball and keep it going with even more attention drawn to him. Golden State was the best defensive team in the league this season, but it didn’t bother James in Game 1 as he sliced-and-diced his way for 44 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
But how will Dellavadova adjust to facing the MVP of the NBA? It’s one thing to go from spelling Irving against Jeff Teague and the Hawks’ backup point guards, but Curry is a different beast. Dellavedova will need help defensively, and he’s obviously a huge downgrade on offense.
Overall, the Cavaliers will miss most the escapability of Irving, who shreds opposing defenses thanks to his unbelievable handle and shot-making ability. He’s practically unguardable. The Australian-born Dellavedova will do an admirable job for Irving, and I think there’s still a chance they could win a game at home.
But for the Cavs to take this series, it would take a Herculean effort out of James, Smith and pretty much every other Cavalier on the roster. That simply won’t happen. Not against this team, in this series, without the Cavs’ second and third-best players. It’s sad and upsetting, after a fantastic regular season, that it’s come down to two injuries. It’s just a reminder that you need a little luck and a lot of health to win a championship.