VIDEO: Blatt on Irving, Game 3
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – No one would blame the Cleveland Cavaliers if they loaded up injured point guard Kyrie Irving‘s dance card with contingencies that had nothing to do with his aching left knee.
Irving, who sat out Game 2 Friday in Atlanta after playing only 27 minutes in the series opener, would appear to be facing no urgency to rush back into action, given Cleveland’s 2-0 edge in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals. The series has shifted to the Cavaliers’ home court for the next two games. The Hawks’ lineup took a serious hit Saturday when sharpshooter Kyle Korver (right high-ankle sprain) was ruled out for the rest of his team’s postseason.
And with the Finals set to start on June 4, the longer the Cavs could go before Irving puts any fresh wear or tear on his knee likely would be helpful in dealing with Golden State or Houston for a championship.
But that isn’t how Irving’s team is approaching his absence. Coach David Blatt said Irving still is listed as questionable for Game 3 Sunday and that his participation will be determined by Irving and a doctor’s decision.
“If he’s able to play, then he’ll play,” Blatt said. “He’s a big part of the team and the series is not finished. But if he’s not able to play, he won’t.”
That’s the problem Atlanta faces in the wake of Korver’s playoff-ending injury, suffered in the third quarter Friday when Cleveland guard Matthew Dellavedova rolled onto the Hawks player’s ankle while diving for a loose ball. Korver had struggled with his shot at times lately, but few this side of Steph Curry are as feared from 3-point range. Atlanta was 5-2 this postseason when the 34-year-old wing player made at least three attempts from the arc.
“We will miss him,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters Saturday. “It’s very, very difficult for him personally but more so for how much this team has done together, how much he’s been a part of that. He’s a huge part of our leadership, our fabric, our fiber.”
Budenholzer said he had not decided who would replace Korver in the starting lineup. The Hawks already are shorthanded with perimeter defender Thabo Sefolosha hurt in a confrontation with New York police in April. Also, DeMarre Carroll – Budenholzer’s preferred defender vs. LeBron James – still is nursing a sore knee suffered late in Game 1.
“Injuries are such a big part of our league and a big part of the playoffs,” Budenholzer said. “Everybody has to deal with them, and we’re not any different. Of course, we’d like to have everyone healthy and be at full speed. That’s the ideal. But you can’t spend too much time or frustration thinking about it or concerned about it.”
Cleveland knows all too well, with Irving hobbled – the point guard did play some 1-on-1 after his team’s practice with assistant coach Phil Handy providing resistance – and Kevin Love’s postseason wiped out by a shoulder injury in the first-round finale against Boston.
The Cavaliers have grown in confidence and competence around their leader, LeBron James. And while it might seem as if James is back in his early Cleveland era, as far as limited star assistance, he didn’t breathe any life into that theory Saturday.
“I never felt I had to do it by myself, even in the past,” James said. “Mentally, I just wasn’t who I am today. My hard drive wasn’t as big as it is today. That’s all it comes from. I’m able to handle a lot of situations that I wasn’t able to handle at 24, 25 years old.
“I just tried to do it [before] by just playing the game of basketball, just going out and just playing – that’s such a small dosage of what the game is all about. The mental side is way more important than the physical and just playing basketball.”
Until the next sore knee or high-ankle sprain, anyway.