OAKLAND — For four quarters Kyrie Irving was looking like he could be the difference in the NBA Finals.
He may end up being, but not in the way he intended.
Irving re-injured his left knee and had to leave the game midway through the overtime of Game 1, a Cavaliers loss. He limped back to the locker room, then after the game badly limped out of the locker room with ice packs on his knee.
There is no diagnosis yet — there will be an MRI on Friday — but Irving left the locker room on crutches. He told the media to “listen to the tone of his voice,” noting that he sounded worried. He said this injury felt different than the tendonitis he had been battling.
“He’s with the doctors right now being evaluated,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said after the game. “I can’t give you any specifics yet. We just don’t know.”
“It was very tough to see, I’ve seen how hard he worked the past eight days to get back to the level he was playing at tonight,” LeBron James said. “It was hard to see him leave the locker room on crutches.”
If Irving is going to miss games, or be limited, the Cavaliers’ chances in this series drop off severely.
During regulation, Irving was showing few effects of the knee tendonitis that had kept him out of two games the last round and limited him when he was on the court these playoffs. Irving had 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists, he was 10-of-22 shooting, he even hit 7-of-14 on contested looks. Then late in the fourth quarter had a game-saving block on what looked like a wide-open Stephen Curry layup.
Then at 2:22 in the fourth and the Cavaliers down four and needing a bucket, Irving drove to his right putting his shoulder into Klay Thompson, then by the elbow tried to stop up for what may have been a pull-up jumper, but his feet seemed to come out from under him. Irving fell to the ground.
He got up, tried to run to the other end on defense but just limped. He was quickly taken out of the game and went straight to the locker room.
“It’s something I hate to see,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I never like to see anybody get injured on either team. I want everybody healthy. And I hope he can play. I mean that. You probably don’t believe me, but I mean that. You want everybody healthy. You want everybody playing. This is the dream of every player, to come to the NBA Finals and perform and compete. So I hope he’s okay.”
The Cavaliers already felt like they let a game they could have won get away Thursday night. Combine that with this Irving injury and the mountain the Cavaliers must climb suddenly looks like Everest.