The injury bug has not been kind to the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2014-15 campaign, and Kyrie Irving’s potential season-ending injury was just the latest example.
Near the end of overtime in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, the Cavs point guard re-aggravated a knee injury and limped off the floor. He ended the tremendous showing with 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals.
But Cleveland dropped the game 108-100. LeBron James scored the team’s lone basket of overtime with just eight seconds remaining and the outcome all but official.
Although James shredded Golden State for 44 points, the Warriors were content. According to Sam Amick of USA Today, small forward Harrison Barnes noted that the defense wanted to contain everyone else:
“You’ve got to look at it and say, ‘Look, this is what we wanted to do.’ We iced out most of his teammates. Obviously Kyrie (Irving) got some things going, but (James) is going to have to have big offensive nights for them. If he beats us doing that, and the other guys don’t get going, we’ll live with that. But chances are, I think we’ll be all right.”
So in Game 2—with or without Irving—the Cleveland role players absolutely must step up.
J.R. Smith posted a 3-of-10 clip from three-point range and 3-of-13 overall, chipping in just nine points over 34 minutes. Throughout the postseason, Smith has shown he’s capable of swinging games in the Cavs’ favor simply by knocking down outside shots.
Tristan Thompson grabbed six offensive rebounds—and this isn’t solely on him—but Cleveland failed to score a single point on those second-chance opportunities. Though his 15 total rebounds were critical, Thompson’s four points in 47 minutes of action didn’t help much.
Even if Irving is ready for Game 2, his availability will more than likely be limited in some capacity, which means Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova must be prepared to occupy those vacated minutes. Both players are most valuable on the defensive end, but if they combine to shoot 4-of-8 from three-point range, chalk that up as a victory for Cleveland.
The Cavaliers were so close to stealing Game 1, truly a testament to their defensive effort on Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
But now, Cleveland needs some more offense, and it must come from the role players. Despite what it may feel like at times, LeBron can’t do it all.
Photo: USA Today Sports