The Cleveland Cavaliers were NBA Finals underdogs even with Kyrie Irving. Now that Irving re-injured his knee in Game 1 – a 108-100 overtime loss – the prognosis looks even more bleak, both for the Cavs and for Irving.
“Well, before the injury, I thought that the series hinged on his health status,” former Cavs point guard and current Grizzlies television analyst Brevin Knight said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “He was going to have to . . . at some point try to defend Steph Curry – which, I thought he did a great job. He had the block that pretty much saved the game in regulation. So I thought that he was moving well. The only problem I had with what they were doing – when you got the best player in the game in LeBron James and you put the ball in his hands and you let him do it, it was just a lot of isolation basketball from either LeBron or Kyrie Irving. I just thought over the long run, to have to try to put that on guys to make plays with the defense – all the other defenders watching them the entire time – would be tough for to do for a seven-game series. And now with Kyrie going down, not knowing the extent of the injury, there’s no chance for them to win the series.”
Irving had 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists, four steals and two blocks before tweaking his knee in overtime, while James went off for 44 points, eight rebounds and six assists. That’s 67 points combined. Throw in Timofey Mozgov’s 16, and you’ve got 83 of the Cleveland’s 100 points.
Translation? No one else did much of anything. The offense was stale and stagnant, and with so much isolation for James and Irving, the role players couldn’t get into a rhythm.
“I think that played a huge part of it,” Knight said. “And look, LeBron had it rolling. He did a good job of getting into the post numerous times and scoring from there. When they helped, he made passes. It’s just very easy to play defense if I see a guy have the ball on one side of the floor and the other four guys go stand away from him. That’s just easy defense. I thought that they needed to move the ball a little bit more so that everyone gets involved in the game, (that) they have an early rhythm into the game. They just didn’t do it. Like I said, with Kyrie going down, I just don’t see (the Cavs winning this series). I think LeBron can will them to two wins, but I think that’s it.”
Cavs head coach David Blatt, meanwhile, is getting a lot of backlash for playing Irving 44 minutes in Game 1 despite the fact that Irving was not 100 percent. Brian Jones and Gregg Giannotti find that criticism ridiculous.
So does Knight.
“This is the NBA Finals,” he said. “If I’m a head coach and one of my star players tells me that I’m ready to go and the training staff tells me he has no minutes restrictions, then I’m going to play him as much as I need to play him. The injury didn’t happen as a result of minutes. He wasn’t just running or collapsed because of exhaustion. He made a move, the body didn’t react the correct way and he got hurt. So I don’t think there’s a blame on minutes at all. Just a freak accident to a very good player.”