The 2018 NBA Finals are one game away from being over. The Golden State Warriors boast a 3-0 series lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers, and despite Game 4 being in Cleveland on Friday night, it’s near-impossible to see any team rally from that kind of deficit, especially against an opponent as formidable as the Warriors.
In light of all of this, it makes sense to sit back and wonder about the various moves the Cavaliers made and how things could have turned out differently. The biggest one, obviously, was the trade that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected pick in the upcoming draft. Of those three players, only Zizic remains in Cleveland, and he mostly takes the floor in garbage time.
One Cavaliers player was thinking back on that deal after the team’s loss on Wednesday night to put them in a 3-0 hole. According to Jason Lloyd of The Athletic, that player went as far as to say he believed the Cavs would be up 3-0 if Irving was still around.
The Rockets pushed them to seven games in the conference finals and even held a 3-2 lead entering Game 6. The Cavs are “this close” to holding a 2-1 lead in this series. And as one veteran lamented after the loss Wednesday, “We’d be up 3-0 if Kyrie was still here. I have no doubt. Do you?”
Lloyd wrote that Cleveland players think this Warriors team is vulnerable, so it makes sense that one of them believes having a player of Irving’s caliber could have shifted the entire series. It is true that Golden State has looked slightly less dominant, and it’s hard to identify exactly why.
Irving is, also, the kind of guy that would thrive in this series, as he’d give Cleveland a second ball handler and offensive weapon beyond LeBron James. Meanwhile, his replacement in the lineup has been George Hill, who has registered nine points and 2.7 assists in 30.6 minutes per game against the Warriors. Just on the face of the matter, it’s hard to look at Hill’s lack of production and how close two of the three games have been and not think Irving could have gotten them over the hump.
But of course, Irving is in Boston, Cleveland is down 0-3, and the Warriors blowing this lead seems almost impossible. The alternate reality understandably seems appealing for the Cavaliers because the current reality isn’t very fun.