The Cleveland Cavaliers announced point guard Kyrie Irving will not play in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday. The All-Star and newly minted All-NBA Third Teamer skipped Friday morning's shootaround and was examined by Dr. James Andrews as he continues to struggle with the left knee tendinitis that has plagued him for the past couple of weeks.
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"Irving’s left knee was evaluated and his diagnosis (tendinitis) confirmed and treatment plan agreed upon," the Cavaliers announced Friday evening. "Irving will be with the team tonight in Atlanta, but will not play. He will continue treatment and is currently listed as questionable for Sunday’s game in Cleveland."
Irving and the Cavaliers' head team physician, Dr. Richard Parker, traveled Friday to see Andrews to determine whether Irving suffered any additional damage beyond the tendinitis that's been causing him discomfort. Fortunately for the Cavaliers, no other structural issues with Irving's knee were apparently discovered.
This will be only the eighth game that Irving has missed this season. Cleveland went 1-6 without him during the regular season.
Irving seemed to tweak the knee while attacking the basket midway through the third quarter of Game 1:
Irving saw just under 3 1/2 minutes of playing time over the final quarter and a half of Game 1, which the Cavaliers won, 97-89, to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven conference finals and wrest home-court advantage away from the Hawks.
After finishing with just 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting, six assists and three rebounds in 27 minutes of floor time, Irving confirmed that he'd reaggravated his left knee injury during Wednesday's game. Irving still handled and moved the ball (70 touches, 54 total passes in 27:19 of Game 1 floor time, according to NBA.com's SportVU player tracking data) about as frequently on a per-minute basis as he has throughout the postseason (76.5 touches and 55.1 passes in 36.3 minutes per game) and during the regular season (80.1 touches and 55.7 passes in 36.3 minutes per game).
But while Irving remained as involved as ever in Cleveland's offense, he did so primarily while operating on the perimeter, lacking the explosion to reliably take Atlanta defenders off the dribble and penetrate into the heart of the Hawks defense. Irving logged just four drives to the basket in Game 1, barely half his postseason average and well below the 9.4 per game he turned in during the regular season.
As he surveys the Hawks defense, Kyrie's mind is willing, but his wheels — he's dealing with a right foot strain in addition to the left knee tendinitis — just aren't up to snuff, The result? What he described as "the most frustrating stretch of his career." From Shaun Powell of NBA.com:
"I just don't have it right now," he said. [...]
"The most frustrating thing is seeing holes in the defenses that I'm used to attacking," he said. "I tried to make one move and I accelerated and then I stopped and passed it."
And, as our Kelly Dwyer noted in his Game 2 lookahead, that's after Irving had a full five days off between Cleveland's Game 6 clincher over the Chicago Bulls and Wednesday's Game 1. If the burst wasn't there after nearly a week of rest and treatment, why should we believe it would have returned after one day?
With a split already secured and home-court advantage already stolen, parking Irving on the pine for Game 2 and giving the training staff more time to do its magic and get him in as-fine-as-possible form for the series' shift to Ohio on Sunday may well have been the best plan.
There's a flip-side to that, though, as laid out by longtime friend of BDL Tas Melas of The Starters:
Kyrie Irving questionable tonight. On one hand, punt game 2, sit Kyrie, rest. On other hand, 5 days off after round 2 didn’t help enough.
— Tas Melas (@TasMelas) May 22, 2015
If five days didn't help, it would stand to reason that three more might not do the trick, either; sitting out one game, then, wouldn't seem to be a solution for what ails Irving. And after additional tests revealed that Irving has no structural or additional damage to the knee, this might just be something that the 23-year-old triggerman needs to continue to grit his teeth and grind through after the series resumes with Game 3 in Cleveland.
Reserve Matthew Dellavedova, the hero of Game 6 against Chicago, will get the starting nod in Irving's place. The young Aussie couldn't keep his hot shooting rolling in Game 1, though, going scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting in 25 minutes of work in the win.
Dellavedova made 13 starts for Cleveland during the regular season, averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 assists and 3.2 rebounds in 33.7 minutes per game as a starter while shooting 41.8 percent from 3-point land (though just 33.3 percent from the floor overall). His assist-to-turnover ratio plummeted when moving into the first five, from a sterling 4.2-to-1 as a reserve to 2.4-to-1 as a starter; head coach David Blatt could elect to use swingmen Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith as supplementary ball-handlers and offensive initiators more frequently in Game 2 than we've seen thus far.
During this postseason, Dellavedova has only shared the floor with the Cavs' other four current starters — Shumpert, LeBron James, Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov — for 10 minutes over four games, with Cleveland outscoring the opposition by eight points in that limited run. Generally speaking, though, Cavs lineups have been more successful with Dellavedova on the floor against the Bulls and Hawks (outscoring them by 11.2 points per 100 possessions in 164 Delly minutes over the past seven games, compared to +2.3 points-per-100 in 172 non-Delly minutes) than with Irving in the lineup (+2.1 points-per-100 in 236 Kyrie minutes, compared to +18 points-per-100 with Kyrie on the bench).
Dellavedova will really only be the nominal point guard in the Cavs' starting five, though. James will likely take on an even greater share of Cleveland's playmaking duties after chiding himself following a 31-point, eight-rebound, six-assist Game 1 in which he said he relied too much on isolating against Atlanta defenders that struggled to check him one-on-one.
“I’ll be more conscious about that in Game 2 if that opportunity presents itself, where at least I can get the ball moving to start [the possession] and then maybe at the back side or like the third option, I can get it back at the end,” James said after the win, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com. “At least we get the defense moving instead of them just watching me pound the ball for 24 seconds. That’s not good basketball.”
With Irving unavailable, if Smith can't once again rain down decidedly-not-boring fire, and if the perimeter trio of Dellavedova, the Kyle Korver-dampening Shumpert and veteran Pop-a-Shotter James Jones can't improve on their 1-for-16 shooting performance from Wednesday, James could again find himself forced to choose between a bad process and a good result.
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