Despite the visible and considerable pain that Kyrie Irving was in Thursday night when he left Game 1 of the NBA Finals with a left-knee injury, the Cleveland Cavaliers are cautiously optimistic that he did not tear anything.
Key word being ‘cautiously.’
“That was the word that was going on last night, but they are very nervous about the fact that it was a non-contact injury,” Sports Illustrated NBA writer Chris Mannix said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “David Blatt mentioned this last night. In any sport, when you have a contact injury, you can explain the pain, the situation, better. Non-contact injuries, they’re a little more terrifying because you don’t know what happened in that moment.”
If Irving misses the rest of the Finals – or is simply more hobbled than he has been – it’s going to be virtually impossible for the Cleveland Cavaliers (read: LeBron James) to win this series.
“I just don’t think he can overcome this,” Mannix said. “I was amazed last night at how LeBron single-handedly closed the talent gap between Golden State and Cleveland. There’s a considerable talent gap there. Even with Kyrie in the lineup, the Warriors are too deep with All-Stars at every position. They’ve got a max guy in David Lee just languishing on the bench. They’re one of the best (teams we’ve seen). If you put teams in a bubble for one season, this is one of the best singular teams that we’ve seen in a long time, just based on the numbers and how they ran though the Western Conference. LeBron, he just blew up that gap. He closed it by himself. Now, Kyrie certainly was instrumental offensively and, as you saw at the end of regulation, defensively. But if he can’t play, (that would be tough to overcome).
“J.R. Smith, unless he has one of his hot streaks – which, I guess is theoretically possible since he does that from time to time. But unless he goes for 25 every single night, and he might have to even go for more, I just don’t know how they can overcome a Golden State team that got those first-game jitters out of the way and I think is going to play much more confidently the rest of the series.”
James had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation, but his deep jumper – which he shot while falling away from the basket – was off the mark. Despite finishing with 44 points, James was criticized for settling for such a difficult shot.
“I thought it was a little bit of hero ball,” Mannix said. “I know it’s his shot to take and against Chicago he took a similarly bad shot that won the game for them in that situation, so I understand why he took it. But he had spent a large part of that second half – and really the whole game – finding guys, finding cutters. Timofey Mozgov got a lot of easy baskets based on LeBron and just from him cutting. I know LeBron loathed to give it up in that situation, but you could see every eyeball on Golden State was on James. If he had just taken another step to the left or the right and maybe found an open teammate, he probably could have gotten somebody a better look. But he was taking that shot in that situation. There was nothing that was going to stop that.”