Perhaps the biggest concern heading into the NBA Finals for the Cleveland Cavaliers was the health of Kyrie Irving’s knee. It hobbled him in earlier rounds, even keeping him out of some games, and the Cavaliers would need Irving completely healthy as they faced the Warriors.
For most of Game 1, the Cavaliers got their wish as Irving played terrifically. But with two minutes left in overtime, Irving crumpled to the floor and had to be helped off, visibly limping as he left the court. As Brian Windhorst of ESPN reports, the aftermath of the injury raised some preexisting tensions between Kyrie’s camp (including his father and his agent) and the Cavaliers:
There’s been some tension between these two sides for weeks now. Irving’s father and Wechsler, sources said, have been preaching caution with Irving and this knee issue. Naturally, they are focused on his long-term health and have concern that playing on a weakened knee — what the Cavs have said publicly was a bad case of tendinitis — could put him at risk of suffering a greater injury.
On the other side was the Cavaliers, who, for obvious reasons, wanted Irving to play through the pain. In the press conferences from previous rounds, both LeBron James and David Blatt made statements that, while not explicitly calling out Kyrie, held plenty of obvious subtext, as Windhorst says.
Blatt and James seemed to be trying to offer perspective and nuance, but perhaps it didn’t come off that way. It came off as a suggestion that it was up to Irving and whether he could tolerate playing with the pain. A manhood test.
So, not great on all sides.
It’s obviously in the best interest of Irving to play the long game and consider his future health, and it’s probably in the best interest of the Cavaliers as well. Obviously, they want to win the title, and they can’t do it this year without Irving. That being said, if all goes according to plan this summer – meaning that Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson return to the team, resulting in little turnover – the Cavaliers will once gain be among the favorites to win the title next year.
It’s undoubtedly crushing, getting this far only to suffer such a devastating blow, but it doesn’t have to spell the end of the Cavaliers as currently constructed.