Their repeat NBA Finals opponent, the Cavaliers, are quite different. Cleveland traded Kyrie Irving then traded most of that return until left with George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson for the NBA Finals – a bunch of spare parts that don’t come close to matching Irving, a star.
The result: Golden State leads Cleveland, 3-0.
But as a veteran player on Cleveland told Jason Lloyd of The Athletic:
“We’d be up 3-0 if Kyrie was still here. I have no doubt. Do you?”
Even moving past the circumstances of his departure, what if Irving were still with the Cavs (and healthy)?
“That’s human nature to think about that kind of a thing,” Kevin Love said.
“I think it’s only natural to think about, especially looking at Swish and Tristan and LeBron and myself and the guys that have come and
gone from our 2016 team and what we were able to do to overcome a 3-1 deficit and how we were able to win those games.”
The Warriors are up 3-0 on the Cavs – same as last year, when Cleveland had Irving and lost in five.
But winning year after year is draining. It can be difficult for the defending champion to summon the determination of a challenger. Golden State is showing cracks. Even if the Warriors are the better team, Irving would have given the Cavaliers a better chance of an upset.
Love isn’t the only one in his locker room thinking about Irving. Love is just the rare one to attach his name to it, because doing so can easily be spun into the players being distracted by issues they can’t control.
Are some Cavs actually dwelling on the loss of Irving to the point it hurts their chances of beating Golden State? Maybe.
But Love has dealt with much bigger issues. I suspect he can compartmentalize.