What No Kyrie Means for the Cavs
*Photo via Getty Images
Kyrie Irving limped off the court in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Game 1 overtime loss to the Golden State Warriors. Irving who has been hobbled all playoffs with a right foot injury as well as left knee tendonitis suffered a fractured left kneecap in Game 1 and is now lost for 3 to 4 months after successful surgery on Saturday. With Cleveland down Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, two of their big three, the Cavs could potentially have their title hopes shattered.
Kyrie has been the second-best offensive player for the Cavs all season. Cleveland loses an elite ball handler, an elite floor spacer, and one of the NBA’s best finishers around the basket. Kyrie was incredible in Game 1 with a stat line of 23 points, seven boards, six assists, four steals and two blocks. One of those blocks allowed Cleveland the luxury of having the final possession of regulation with the game tied instead of being down two.
With Irving out, undrafted second-year man, Matthew Dellavedova will most likely get the start as well as an increase in minutes. Dellavedova started Games 2 and 3 in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks, which resulted in two Cleveland wins. When Delly has started this postseason, he’s increased his shot attempts from 4.2 to 14.0 with his field goal percentage dropping from 41.8 to 32.1. He’s praised as being a better defender than Kyrie, but opponents have shot 2.5 percent better from the field when guarded by Dellavedova. However, Cleveland’s defensive rating is 4.6 points better with Dellavedova on the court this postseason.
LeBron James will also have to play more of a facilitator and primary ball handler role with Irving out. The King will have to follow up a 44-point performance with similar scoring numbers and greater assist numbers. He may be the greatest player in the world, but to ask for that consistently just to keep Cleveland in games is asking for unsustainable greatness.
In Game 1 the Warriors refused to double LeBron James in the post and allowed him to play one on one. However, LeBron took only eight shots from within eight feet. In contrast, he also took eight attempts from 24+ feet. James shot an efficient 12 of 20 on shots within 16 feet, but an inefficient 6 of 18 everywhere else.
LeBron isn’t an elite three-point shooter, but he’s a horrendous 18.4 percent this postseason from behind arc. Without Kevin Love to space the floor, James consistently sees Timofey Mozgov’s defender creeping over to help if he attacks the rim. In this series, it’s Andrew Bogut, who is forcing opponents to shoot 41.9 percent at the rim throughout the postseason.
How did Mozgov get all of those poster dunks in Game 1? It’s because his defender is cheating over to prevent LeBron from driving to the basket. A change in Cleveland’s offense I expect to see in Game 2 is more ball movement to allow lanes to open for LeBron to attack as the defense shifts. If LeBron can find lanes to the basket off dribble drives and perimeter screen and rolls, expect J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and James Jones to see more open three-point looks via kick outs than they did in Game 1.
With all of that being said, Cleveland has to play near perfect offense and find a way to limit the explosive Golden State offense. A daunting task for The King and his Cavaliers.