Irv­ing f in­ished for the Fi­nals

Cleve­land’s All-Star point guard broke his kneecap in Game 1, so re­serves will have to do a lot more.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Mike Bres­na­han mike.bres­na­han@la­times.com Twit­ter: Mike_Bres­na­han

Point guard (above) broke his kneecap in Game 1, putting even more pres­sure on LeBron James.

OAK­LAND — LeBron James car­ried a towel af­ter a brief work­out be­fore Fri­day’s prac­tice. It said “ALL IN” with big let­ters and had the Cleve­land Cava­liers logo on it.

He then folded the white towel in half, a good sign for Cava­liers fans. He wasn’t wav­ing it in sur­ren­der.

James is the only one left of the Cava­liers’ Big Three, Kevin Love hav­ing bowed out in April with a sea­son-end­ing shoul­der in­jury and Kyrie Irv­ing now done be­cause of a frac­tured left kneecap.

The Cava­liers braced for the worst and re­ceived it with an MRI exam Fri­day: Irv­ing will need three to four months of re­cov­ery af­ter surgery within a few days, the team said.

Irv­ing left Game 1 of the NBA Fi­nals in over­time, crum­pling to the court while driv­ing to­ward the bas­ket in the Cava­liers’ 108-100 loss Thurs­day to Golden State.

Los­ing the All-Star point guard is a de­ci­sive blow for Cleve­land, try­ing to cap­ture its first NBA cham­pi­onship in 45 years of ex­is­tence.

Irv­ing, 23, has been both­ered by sore­ness in the knee in re­cent weeks and missed two games of the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nals be­cause of what the team called se­vere ten­dini­tis.

Be­fore news of Irv­ing ’s in­jury was dis­closed, James tried to sound as up­beat as pos­si­ble. Irv­ing av­er­aged 19 points and 3.8 as­sists in the play­offs.

“The good thing about it, we’ve been in this po­si­tion be­fore,” James said. “If he’s not able to go, it’s some­thing that’s not new to us. So, next man up, and guys will be ready for the chal­lenge.”

Un­for­tu­nately for the Cava­liers, few were up for the chal­lenge in Game 1 be­sides James (44 points), Irv­ing (23 points, six as­sists) and Ti­mofey Moz­gov (16 points).

The re­serves to­taled nine points, all of them com­ing from cold-shoot­ing J.R. Smith (three for 13).

The pres­sure now will be unimag­in­ably heavy on James, who tried to make good with the city of Cleve­land by re­turn­ing there af­ter four years with the Miami Heat.

He has been stel­lar in the play­offs, av­er­ag­ing 28.7 points, 10.3 re­bounds and 8.1 as­sists, but this now feels like a mon­u­men­tal mission. Ex­cept maybe to James.

“There are a few things that you would love to have go­ing late in the sea­son — be­ing healthy, hav­ing a great rhythm, and then you need a lit­tle luck as well. We’ve had a great rhythm, we haven’t had much luck and we haven’t been healthy,” he said. “But I haven’t got­ten dis­cour­aged. I’m ex­cited to be in this mo­ment once again, and I’m go­ing to stay strong for my team, no mat­ter who is or is not in the lineup.”

He’ll have to do it with an un­re­mark­able sup­port­ing cast start­ing to look like his team­mates in 2007, when the Cava­liers and a 22-year- old James were swept by San An­to­nio.

Sec­ond-year guard Matthew Dellave­dova av­er­aged 14 points and three as­sists while start­ing two games in Irv­ing ’s ab­sence in the East fi­nals. He fig­ures to get the call again, but plenty of work will fall upon Smith and Iman Shumpert, role play­ers ac­quired by Cleve­land in a mid­sea­son deal with New York.

Smith can be gifted on of­fense but also prone to er­ratic play. He av­er­aged 18 points and four three­p­oint­ers per game in the East fi­nals against At­lanta, fol­low­ing it up un­suc­cess­fully in 34 min­utes of Game 1 in the Fi­nals.

Shumpert av­er­aged 15.5 points in the two games Irv­ing missed but usu­ally isn’t much of a scorer. He was a com­bined two for 15 in the other two games of the East fi­nals and had only six points Thurs­day.

The War­riors were the fa­vorites be­fore the Fi­nals started and now ap­pear much more so.

They ab­sorbed a great road ef­fort in the opener by Cleve­land and won when the Cava­liers went dry in over­time, scor­ing only two points. In Game 2, the deep War­riors again plan to use 10 play­ers.

Re­serve for­ward An­dre Iguo­dala had an un­ex­pected 15 points on of­fense and of­ten de­fended James by him­self. The War­riors were con­ced­ing the fact James could score at will while try­ing to take away his pass­ing.

It was un­clear if that would be the War­riors’ Game 2 strat­egy, but there were many smiles from them Fri­day, sen­si­bly enough, Stephen Curry show­ing no letup at all while av­er­ag­ing 30.3 points and six as­sists over his last six games.

He had fun with a re­porter who pointed out Curry had made 12 con­sec­u­tive three-point at­tempts from the left cor­ner.

“You jinxed me al­ready. That’s a death wish for Game 2,” Curry said with a laugh. “I need to know where you’re sit­ting at in Game 2. I’ll point at you if I miss it.”

The War­riors could af­ford some fun. Forty years since their last cham­pi­onship, ev­ery­thing looks in­creas­ingly promis­ing for them.

Ezra Shaw Getty Images

Irv­ing

James

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