Cavs are confident the Finals aren’t over despite loss of Kyrie Irving


OAKLAND — However anybody wants to spin it, Kyrie Irving’s season-ending knee injury sucked the wind out of what had been shaping up to be a phenomenal NBA Finals. The Cavaliers have dealt with injuries throughout the postseason, and they’ve had very little room for error because of it.

But the Warriors are better, and healthier, than any of the three teams they played in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Cleveland was already a longshot in this series. Now, it feels lie a question of whether it will be over in four games or five.

Not that the Cavs are ready to throw in the towel.

“Look, we’ve found a way,” head coach David Blatt said Saturday before practice. “We won a Chicago series without Kevin [Love] and with Kyrie pretty limited and missing a couple of games or missing parts of games. Obviously, in the Atlanta series the same thing with Kev out and Kyrie out for parts of that series. That’s a credit to the work that all the team has done. Certainly LeBron has recognized the need to take even more responsibility and has done it in a great way.”

The Warriors’ coaching staff has anticipated this mentality and hammering into the players how successful the Cavs have been with James on the floor without their other two stars. The key to their success has been smallball lineups with James at power forward and Tristan Thompson at center. But those lineups are highly effective when they’re an option, another look the Cavs can throw at teams. When it’s their only option against a team as versatile as the Warriors, it might be a different story.

“From an analytics standpoint, it’s not a big sample size,” said Cavs GM David Griffin of the lineup data for James-led lineups without Irving or Love. “I think you have to take a little bit of that with a grain of salt because it’s also about match ups and we were really fortunate the teams we played lent themselves to the style we were going to play. Golden State is a totally different animal. If you get to choose, you’ll always choose more talent. But I’m really grateful we’ve got the mentality we have.”source: Getty Images

That mentality already has the team making adjustments. Matthew Dellavedova will start for Irving, because they don’t have many other options. But as good as he’s been in these playoffs, he played an ineffective nine minutes in Game 1 and expecting him to guard Stephen Curry for long stretches is going to be a lot to ask. Still, the Cavs are confident they can make it work.

I guess with Delly in or whoever we may add into the starting lineup, there’s going to be a little more ball movement just because of the guys we have on the court. When we’re moving the ball and we’re sharing it and screening for each other, pinning away, we’re pretty tough to guard. So we’ve made our adjustments. But also, at the same time, if LeBron’s on the block, that’s almost your best bet right there.

The challenge for the Warriors, now, is going to be to keep the same focus now that their opponent’s second-best player is out of the picture. Losing Irving, especially the much-improved version that showed up in Game 1, changes things drastically for Cleveland.

“A lot of people are saying the series is over, but that’s not true,” said Warriors guard Klay Thompson. “This is a team that’s more than capable. They did beat the Atlanta Hawks twice without him, and that was the best team in the East. So you’ve got to respect what the other guys can do. Obviously, Kyrie’s a huge part of their team. He’s one of their best players. But you can’t let your guard down. They’ve still got guys who are more than capable of making plays.”

David Blatt on Kyrie Irving: “He got kneed in the side of his knee. It was a contact injury.”


OAKLAND — Cavaliers coach David Blatt has faced criticism from some quarters in the wake of Kyrie Irving’s playoff ending fracture of his kneecap. Why did Blatt play Irving 43 minutes? Did he and the Cavs push Irving to get back before his body was ready and that led to a non-contact injury where Irving’s knee buckles?

Blatt does not buy even the basic premise of this argument — that Irving’s knee just gave out.

“My take on the injury was that he got kneed in the side of his knee,” Blatt said Saturday. “It was a contact injury, and the result was a fracture of the kneecap.”

Did the tendonitis that Irving has battled all season have anything to do with the injury?

“You know, that’s a doctor’s question, but in my opinion, absolutely not. It has nothing to do with it,” Blatt said.

Cavaliers GM David Griffin echoed that second idea.

“It’s an injury that is completely separate from the nature of his previous injury,” Griffin said. “I would be naive to say there was absolutely no correlation because we’ll never know. But every objective measure we have, all the opinions that were gathered, everybody who saw the images, they all agreed that there was no additional risk.”

First, we should not confuse contact with intent — there is no way a rational person can watch the video of the injury and suggest Klay Thompson intended to injure Irving. I would certainly hope that is not what Blatt was going at.

If there is contact, it’s relatively minimal and not outside the norm that happens a lot over the course of an NBA game.

Was Kyrie’s injury due to tendonitis and overuse? We don’t have the details of the injury but as was pointed out in a fantastic article at The Sporting News, a fractured kneecap usually happens when a tendon snaps and takes a piece of kneecap with it. That appears to have been what happened to Irving.

I’m no doctor, in this case it may well be impossible to say. But studies have shown that overuse of muscles and tendons can lead to this type of injury. Draw your own conclusions.

Cavaliers’ second-most used lineup of playoffs should get more run in Game 2 of NBA Finals


The Warriors have been wildly successful this season when using a small lineup that features Draymond Green at the five, surrounded by various combinations of guards and wings.

As it turns out, the same has been true for the Cavaliers, albeit in a smaller sample size.

With Kyrie Irving ruled out for the remainder of the postseason due to a knee injury, a silver lining for Cleveland around this darkest of clouds may be found in Matthew Dellavedova, who has played well as part of the team’s second-most used lineup in these playoffs — one that doesn’t feature Irving at all, but has dominated its opponents.

The Cavaliers have had to adjust on the fly this postseason, thanks to Kevin Love being lost in the first round due to injury, J.R. Smith missing two games in the second round due to a suspension, and Irving sitting out two games of the Eastern Conference Finals. Because of all that, Cleveland was forced to try out more lineups than expected, and one in particular has yielded a significant level of success.

The guys the Cavs have rolled out in these playoffs the most have been the members of their preferred starting lineup: Irving, LeBron James, Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert. Including Game 1 of the Finals, this group has played together a total of 105 postseason minutes, has a win-loss record of 7-3, and has outscored opponents by 8.2 points per 100 possessions.

The lineup that’s second on the team’s most-used list is a little less traditional.

When the Cavaliers have gone small with Thompson at center, surrounded by James, Shumpert, Dellavedova and J.R. Smith, they were undefeated in eight games before the Finals, and played 50 total minutes while outscoring their opponents by 26.2 points per 100 possessions.

With Irving out, this might be an option for Cleveland in longer stretches than it has been willing to experiment with to this point of the postseason. There’s (of course) the problem of how well the Warriors may be able to match up, and play their preferred style of uptempo basketball that leads to Green pushing the break, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson getting loose for open looks in transition.

But as we saw in Game 1, it’s difficult for the Cavaliers if LeBron has to try to drag his team to victory all by himself. Without Irving, he will have even less help in Game 2, and they’ll have to get a little bit desperate. The small lineup has proven to work in short bursts, and now seems like the perfect time to unleash it fully, just to see what havoc it may be able to bring.

Strength in Numbers is not just marketing slogan, it’s philosophy for Warriors


OAKLAND — What happened in Game 1 of the NBA Finals may have seemed like a playoff anomaly to people not used to watching Golden State — their starters bogged down to start the game, so Warriors coach Steve Kerr went deep into his bench early and trusted them to turn things around.

It wasn’t. It’s how the Warriors have played all season.

“We know we didn’t play that well, it wasn’t us,” Warriors’ Brazilian reserve guard Leandro Barbosa said of the start to the game. “We were excited and nervous because we hadn’t been in that position before, it was everything new for us, so many people, it was a different feeling. Once we got our momentum, everything was very good.”

“It’s oftentimes our second group that gets the ball moving and gets our team going, not just (in Game 1), but we’ve had several games where that’s been the case,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “Sometimes our starters get a little bogged down, and we go to Shaun (Livingston) and L.B (Barbosa). and Andre (Iguodala). Last night Mo (Marreese Speights) with his return, and the game can change. Sometimes you just need a different look. And I do believe that there is a certain chemistry that comes with relying on a lot of people too.”

It’s easy to point to Andre Iguodala coming off the bench and guarding LeBron James and saying that is how the Warriors’ bench contributed, but it was much more than that.

In Game 1, Golden State had a lineup with at least three bench players on the court for 14 minutes and were a +4 in that time, with some key lineups doing very well. It was the Warriors bench that sparked a comeback from 14 down in the first half.

source: Getty Images

Contrast that with the Cavaliers, where David Blatt played six guys at least 33 minutes, giving limited duty to anyone else, such as James Jones (17 minutes) and Matthew Dellavedova (nine minutes).

“I think in overtime they got a little bit tired, their rotation is a little bit shorter, and our rotation is a little bit longer, I think that affected the game last night,” Barbosa said, while adding it’s not why he thought the Warriors won.

What Blatt did in Game 1 is what most every coach does in the playoffs, tightening his rotations — and it almost worked. Behind the brilliance of LeBron, the Cavaliers were an Iman Shupert putback at the buzzer away from stealing Game 1 on the road.

But that’s not what the Warriors do. Those “Strength in Numbers” T-shirts everyone wears is not just a marketing slogan, it’s a philosophy.

“I think every team is different,” Kerr said. “I thought about it as soon as I got the job looking at the roster, and, in fact, the first meeting of the season the night before training camp, we had a team dinner, and that was a big theme was strength in numbers. We’re going to try to use our depth throughout the regular season and in the playoffs, and that’s been a big part of our team.”

“I don’t think it should change,” Barbosa said of the rotations. “(Kerr) did that the whole season and the whole playoffs. I think there’s a reason for him to do that, we kind of know what we have to do when we’re out there, he’s got a lot of confidence in us.”

As he should — that bench is a key reason Golden State is up 1-0 in the NBA Finals. And that bench will get its shot in Game 2.

WATCH: An all-access look back at Game 1 of NBA Finals

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Game 1 of the NBA Finals was about as exciting a contest as anyone could have asked for.

The Warriors overcame a double-digit first-half deficit, Kyrie Irving came up huge with a (temporarily) game-saving block on Stephen Curry, LeBron James had a chance to win it with a shot at the end of regulation, before Golden State prevailed in the overtime session.

Relive it all with this mini-movie the league put together, which features plenty of behind-the-scenes and all-access clips in addition to fresh angles of the game’s most memorable moments.