Kyrie Irving will miss at least two weeks after suffering a "strain in the long head tendon of his left biceps" during the Cleveland Cavaliers' 102-80 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday, the Cavaliers announced Monday evening.
The injury occurred during the first quarter, with the Cavs down 23-12 and the Clippers attacking the basket:
After Clippers point guard Chris Paul couldn't connect with center DeAndre Jordan on an alley-oop dunk, the loose ball popped right to L.A. power forward Blake Griffin. Irving swiped at the basketball with his left hand as Griffin gathered and attempted to put up a shot; he knocked the ball loose, sending it off Griffin's face and out of bounds. Irving immediately began reaching for his left shoulder and arm, checking out of the game in favor of reserve Matthew Dellavedova; he would not return, logging just 9:40 of playing time and contributing two points, four rebounds and two assists in the loss.
Irving didn't speak to reporters and left Staples Center with his left arm in a sling, with an MRI scheduled for Monday. After the game, "two NBA sources" told Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the injury "could be severe enough to end [Irving's] season in the worst case scenario." As it turned out, though, it wasn't quite as bad as it could've been; he'll be shut down for two weeks and evaluated after that.
Still, it's not exactly ideal. The two-week timetable for Irving's biceps strain — which comes one week after No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett was sidelined for at least three weeks with a left knee injury — will keep him out for at least eight games. And considering the opposition in those eight games — the playoff-bound Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers, plus two teams (the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons) with whom the Cavs are vying for a postseason berth — Irving's absence could deal a fatal blow to Cleveland's faintly flickering hopes of catching the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket.
The Cavaliers enter Monday in 10th place in the East, one game behind the ninth-place New York and 4 1/2 games back of the eighth-seeded Hawks. Making up that kind of ground with just 15 games remaining — The 29-35 Hawks have played three fewer games than both the 26-41 Cavs and 27-40 Knicks — already figured to be a tall order, especially with Atlanta seeming to have righted the ship somewhat since getting All-Star forward Paul Millsap back from injury and cleaning the wax out of Jeff Teague's ears, and New York having won six straight games (against admittedly ragged competition) to get back into the "race." Doing so without their primary scorer, playmaker and facilitator will be even tougher.
While the Cavs do have capable-enough backups in veteran Jarrett Jack and rookie Matthew Dellavedova, neither profiles as the kind of galvanizing offensive force likely to steer Cleveland's ship to the sort of uptick in form that'll be needed to leapfrog the Knicks and Hawks. One would suspect we're about to see quite a bit of Dion Waiters asserting himself (he went 5 for 15 from the floor on Sunday) and Luol Deng (a team-high 23 points on 8 for 16 shooting) doing his level best to take on a perhaps-larger-than-advisable share of playmaking responsibility in the absence of his team's All-Star point guard. At least he's got plenty of experience.
This marks the fourth straight year that Irving has seen his season curtailed due to injury. A right toe injury limited him to just 11 games in his only year at Duke. A concussion and sprained right shoulder cost him 13 games as a rookie. A fractured right index finger, a hyperextended right knee and a sprained left AC joint kept him out for 23 games last season.
The 21-year-old point guard had been more durable this year, missing just three games in January with a left knee contusion prior to this setback, and logging career highs in games and minutes played. But despite earning his second straight All-Star berth, making his first appearance as a fan-voted starter on the Eastern Conference All-Star squad and winning honors as the 2014 All-Star Game's Most Valuable Player, it's been a comparatively disappointing season for Irving.
He's averaging career lows in field-goal and 3-point shooting percentage, has taken steps backward in per-minute scoring and rebounding, and looks to be having a tougher time finishing at the rim; in what might be a related story, he's taking more than two-thirds of his shots outside the paint, by far the highest mark of his three-year career. He's seventh among point guards in Player Efficiency Rating after finishing in the top five in his first two pro seasons, and while Cleveland's offense has been abysmal without Irving on the floor, scoring 96.2 points per 100 possessions (which would top only the dreadful Philadelphia 76ers over the course of the full season), it's been pretty bad with Kyrie, too — 101.5 points-per-100, which would rank 21st among 30 NBA teams. The defensive numbers have been even worse in Irving's minutes, as Cleveland's allowed 107.2-per-100, equivalent to a bottom-five mark; in fact, the Cavs have been quite good on defense without him, giving up just 99.3-per-100 in just under 1,000 minutes of Kyrie-less ball, which is stingier than everyone but the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls this season.
It's a five-man game, of course, and Irving's teammates have struggled, too; it's not like this team's been bad offensively and defensively solely because of its lone All-Star. Still, many — including Cleveland's brass and fans — picked the young, lottery-stocked Cavs to break through to the playoff bracket in Irving's third year, and his individual failure to improve upon the performances of years past stands as one of many reasons why this Cavaliers season has fallen far short of expectations. Unless they can catch fire against a rugged slate without Irving and keep rolling once they get him back, the disappointment for the Cavs — who, lest we forget, traded one future first-round pick and four future second-round picks in deals for free-agents-to-be Deng and Spencer Hawes aimed at getting them into the playoffs this year — figures to linger even longer.
Video via Ben Golliver of The Point Forward.
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