We knew Kyrie Irving was going to have to play through pain in these NBA Finals. Irving has been dealing with injuries throughout this postseason, and nagging knee tendinitis throughout the last two rounds has rendered him less than 100 percent and kept him out of two games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Irving wasn’t going to let that pain stop him from participating in his first NBA Finals, and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ star point guard put on a star effort in Game 1 on Thursday night. Unfortunately, the night ended in disappointment, defeat and yet another injury as Irving left the 108-100 loss after appearing to hurt his left knee again in overtime. His status is currently unclear for Sunday’s Game 2.
It really was difficult to watch Irving, who has dealt with a plethora of injuries in his playing career, hobble off the court and into the locker after putting forth such an admirable effort on both ends of the floor. His long-range shot was a bit off, as he went 2-of-8 from long range, but he went 8-of-14 on all other shots and finished with 23 points in support of LeBron James, who poured in a Finals career-high 44 points.
Irving also contributed seven rebounds and six assists, but some of his most impressive work came on the defensive end. The point guard has never been known as a defensive savant, and facing the duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson on a gimpy knee didn’t sound ideal for Cleveland.
But there was Irving, working hard to keep up with Curry around screens. There was Irving, battling Thompson on post-ups. There was Irving, racking up four steals and blocking Curry not only once, but twice. The second of those two blocks came with the game on the line when Curry appeared to have Irving beat for a go-ahead layup.
Curry finished with 26 points on 10-of-20 shooting, but most of that damage didn’t come with Irving on him. In fact, Curry managed just four points on 1-of-4 shooting when Irving was the primary defender, per SportVU. That certainly wasn’t expected.
Irving looked rather downtrodden at his locker after the game, and he admitted that this injury felt a bit different than the other tweaks he’s suffered this postseason:
Kyrie says he's "very frustrated" & that his knee feels different than previous times he's tweaked it these playoffs. Says he'll get an MRI.
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) June 5, 2015
Irving left the arena on crutches, although the good news is the initial diagnosis didn’t reveal a torn ACL or MCL. Even so, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be able to play again in this series, and the Cavaliers are crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.
Cleveland was already behind the eight-ball coming into this series, and they needed Irving to play well to have a chance. The Cavaliers got that in Game 1 and outscored the Warriors by 10 points when Irving and James shared the court, per NBA.com.
However, if Irving is seriously hobbled or has to miss time, this series is a wrap. Matthew Dellavedova has been an unsung hero in these playoffs, but he looked overmatched in his nine Game 1 minutes and was a team-worst -13. Perhaps Dellavedova can regain that magic from earlier in the postseason, but early returns weren’t good.
A serious Irving injury could rob us of a classic Finals. The Cavaliers were on the verge of stealing Game 1 thanks in part to Irving’s superb effort, but instead, they couldn’t finish the job in regulation and lost not only the game, but Irving as well.