OAKLAND — Kyrie Irving left Oracle Arena on crutches, with tests coming Friday to determine the severity of his left knee injury.
If he can’t go in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday, the Cleveland Cavaliers will have to figure out how to replace one of the best point guards in the NBA.
“Well, I mean, it’s the next man up,” LeBron James said.
But with a roster that’s already depleted by injuries, do the Cavaliers have enough next men against the powerful Golden State Warriors?
Kevin Love is already out for rest of the postseason with a shoulder injury, and Anderson Varejao was lost long ago. That has left the Cavaliers with just an eight-player rotation, not nearly enough against what might be the deepest team in the league.
The Warriors’ reserves outscored the Cavs’ 34-9 in their 108-100 overtime victory Thursday, and it seemed clear the Cavs ran out of gas down the stretch.
Cleveland coach David Blatt was asked if he can find more minutes for his reserves in Game 2.
“Certainly we can, but at the end of the day, people, it was a one-shot game,” he said. “You’re there in the first game of the NBA Finals on an away floor, and we were in position to win that game. So in retrospect, yes, would have liked to have done that.
“Realistically, we put ourselves in position to win that game the way we played it. But like every other game, you look, and you see, and you adjust. When and if necessary, you change tactics.”
No such worries for the Warriors, who aren’t afraid to ride their reserves no matter the situation. In Game 1, that meant using Andre Iguodala for 32 minutes, mostly to defend James, and even going with backup center Festus Ezeli to start overtime.
“We have a lot of bodies,” Iguodala said. “A lot of guys we threw at LeBron tonight. He made some tough shots, and that’s what we’re going to try to do throughout the whole series is make him take tough shots. Just try to wear teams down, and that’s what we’ve done all year.”
Irving had a strong game before departing, finishing with 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists, and blocking Stephen Curry’s shot late in regulation to give the Cavs a chance to win it on their last possession.
Matthew Dellavedova played well in Irving’s absence when the All-Star missed two games in the Eastern Conference finals. The Australian wasn’t a factor Thursday, playing 9 scoreless minutes, but the Cavs may have to count on him Sunday.
“If Kyrie can’t go, Delly’s number is going to be called and everyone else has to pick each other up,” James said.
James said even he could play better, though that’s hard to imagine after he scored 44 in Game 1, his best finals performance ever. But with no Love, potentially no Irving and no reliable backups to speak of, there may be no other way for the Cavs to win the series.
“It’s not about me. It’s not about the next guy. It’s about all of us,” James said. “We’re going to watch the film and get better for Game 2.”