Cleveland Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving will miss the remainder of the NBA Finals with a fractured left kneecap, but LeBron James vows his team will be ready for game two Sunday.
Irving, who collapsed in over-time of Cleveland’s 108-100 loss to Golden State in Thursday’s opener, will undergo surgery in the next few days and the 23-year-old All-Star guard is expected to need three or four months to recover.
Losing Irving, who averaged 18.7 points and 3.7 assists in the playoffs and 21.7 points and 5.2 assists this season, is a major blow for a team that already star big man Kevin Love in the opening round with a separated shoulder.
But the latest setback has not dimmed the competitive fire of James, seeking his third NBA title in his sixth finals appearance.
“I haven’t gotten discouraged,” the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player said. “I understand the moment I’m in. I’m going to stay strong for my team no matter who is or isn’t in my lineup.”
Irving underwent an MRI exam Friday that revealed the severity of the injury after playing nearly 44 minutes against the Warriors in game one and contributing 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists, four steals and two blocked shots with no sign of trouble until he went down.
“I want to thank everyone for the well wishes,” Irving said in a statement posted on Instagram. “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.”
Irving missed two games in the Eastern Conference finals sweep of Atlanta with left knee and right footinjuries, with Australian reserve Matthew Dellavedova entering the lineup in his place.
“As far as how we prepare, we’ve been through this,” Cavaliers coach Dave Blatt said. “We’ve played games without Kevin, without Kyrie. We know how we want to play when they’re not in there. From that standpoint, we can prepare.”
James, who scored 44 points in the opener, will have to incorporate his teammates more into the attack, including Iman Shumpert, who grabbed 15 rebounds in game one, and Russian big man Timofey Mozgov.
“I’ve got to do a better job getting my other guys involved,” James said. “The good news is we’ve been in this position before. It’s not new to us. We will be ready to go. Next man up.”
That man, Dellavedova, said before the announcement that he will be ready.
“You prepare like you are going to play more and if he is fine you don’t have to adjust,” Dellavedova said.
“It was a great experience for me being able to play more minutes and a greater role (against Atlanta)… I will draw on that experience.”
– Cooling Curry a team job –
Irving was a stalwart on the defensive end, blocking a Steph Curry layup attempt in the final seconds on Thursday to help force over-time. The Cavaliers must adjust their roles to help contain the NBA Most Valuable Player, who already has an NBA playoff record 75 3-pointers.
“We all have to contribute and do a few different things. We will all have to help out,” Dellavedova said. “It’s a team cover. You want to keep him off the 3-point line but he’s a good dribbler so you worry about him driving to the hoop.”
Irving sent the Aussie a message of support, saying, “To my brothers: You already know what the deal is. And to Delly: ‘ICE it down del'”
Irving was born in Melbourne while his American father, Drederick, was playing pro basketball in Australia.
Keeping the confidence they had before Irving’s injury will be vital if the Cavaliers are to bring their city its first champion in any major sport since 1964.
“We’ve got guys that can step up, guys who have done well, so hopefully their confidence is still where it was,” said Cleveland’s J.R. Smith. “The next man has to step up and play. If you have anything to prove this is the place.” – Agence France-Presse