Kyrie Irving will miss the remainder of the NBA finals with a broken left kneecap, a brutal setback to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ hopes of winning their first league title.
The Cavaliers announced on Friday (Saturday in Manila) after a team workout that the 23-year-old All-Star guard will undergo surgery in the next few days and is expected to need three or four months to recover, putting him position to be ready for the start of next season’s training camp.
But four-time NBA Most Valuable Player LeBron James vows the Cavaliers will be ready to try and level the best-of-seven series in Sunday’s game two.
“I haven’t gotten discouraged,” James said. “I understand the moment I’m in. I’m going to stay strong for my team no matter who is or isn’t in my lineup.”
Leading by example, the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player was the first man on the court for shooting practice just hours after Irving went down in over-time of Golden State’s 108-100 triumph over Cleveland in the opener.
Irving collapsed to the court and limped to the locker room. An MRI exam revealed the extent of the damage and delivered a major blow to Cleveland sports fans who dreamed of the city’s first pro crown since the 1964 NFL Browns.
“We have been through this with Kyrie before,” Cavaliers coach Dave Blatt said. “From that standpoint we can prepare.”
Irving missed two games in the Eastern Conference finals sweep of Atlanta with left knee and right foot injuries, with Australian reserve Matthew Dellavedova entering the lineup in his place.
“The good news is we’ve been in this position before,” James said. “It’s not new to us. We will be ready to go. Next man up.”
Dellavedova said before the announcement that he is prepared for whatever may come.
“You prepare like you are going to play more and if he is fine you don’t have to adjust,” Dellavedova said. “I think that’s the right way to do it.”
Losing Irving is devastating because he is the team’s number two scoring threat after James, who is playing in his fifth consecutive NBA Finals and who scored 44 points in game one.
Irving has averaged 18.7 points and 3.7 assists a game in the playoffs after averaging 21.7 points and 5.2 assists during the season. He also has been a stalwart on the defensive end, blocking a Steph Curry layup attempt in the final seconds on Thursday to help force over-time.
That means Dellavedova’s teammates will have to adjust their roles to help contain the Warriors, whose deep bench helped them win an NBA-best 67 games this season.
Team cover on Curry
Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors shoots during a practice session on June 5 in Oakland, California, a day after the Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1.
“We all have to contribute and do a few different things. We will all have to help out,” Dellavedova said of playing without Irving. “
Shutting down Curry, the NBA Most Valuable Player who has already set a one-season playoff record for three-pointers, will take some help.
The Cavaliers have faced a difficult question regarding Irving for weeks, knowing his knee was sore but having to mix in the need for him in the lineup against the potential for greater damage to the knee and the long-term impact on one of the NBA’s rising young talents.
But Irving played nearly 44 minutes against the Warriors in Game One and contributed 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists, four steals and two blocked shots with no sign of trouble until he went down.
Irving was born in Melbourne while his American father, Drederick, was playing pro basketball in Australia.