INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Kyrie Irving plopped down on a courtside bench following a brisk workout and two team trainers quickly went to work adjusting straps on his new knee brace.
The Cavaliers, completely in command of the Eastern Conference finals, may soon be closer to full strength.
Irving made some cuts and drives while wearing a brace on his left knee Saturday and the Cavs said the All-Star guard is questionable for Sunday’s Game 3 against Atlanta. While Irving remains iffy, he hasn’t been ruled out and that’s an improvement after he sat out Friday night as Cleveland took a 2-0 lead with a 94-82 win over the hobbled Hawks.
Irving aggravated tendinitis during Game 1, and after visiting renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews on Friday in Florida, the Cavs rested one of their stars. Cavs coach David Blatt said Irving’s status for Sunday will be a medical decision and won’t be affected by Cleveland’s seeming stranglehold on the series.
“If he’s able to play, then he’ll play,” Blatt said. “He’s a big part of the team, and this series is not finished. But if he’s not able to play, he won’t. That’s the determining factor.”
Meanwhile, the Hawks lost starter Kyle Korver, their best outside shooter, for the remainder of the postseason with a severely sprained right ankle.
It’s another damaging blow to the Hawks, the East’s top seed who were soundly outclassed on their home floor by LeBron James and the Cavs. Not having Korver makes things even tougher.
“He’s a huge part of our leadership, our fabric, our fiber,” coach Mike Budenholzer said about Korver, injured while scrambling for a loose ball in Game 2.
Atlanta has already been diminished by forward DeMarre Carroll’s sprained knee. Nicknamed the “Junkyard Dog,” he was supposed to be the one to keep James under control. But through two games, the Cleveland superstar has taken the bite out of Carroll and dominated.
James came within one rebound of a triple-double in Game 2, when he once again carried his team the way he has throughout his career. With Kevin Love out for the postseason following shoulder surgery and Irving not himself, it’s fallen on James to pick up the slack by rebounding more, handling the ball more, doing more of everything.
And, as is usually the case, he’s delivered. James is averaging 30.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.5 assists in the series.
“There’s no doubt we have to do a better job defending him, both individually and as a team,” Budenholzer said. “We’ve got to do a better job taking away the passing lanes, a better job arriving on the pass and a better job contesting shots. That’s really not any different than what it was coming into the series. But as you see it, experience it, feel it, hopefully we’ll get better as the series goes on.”
The Hawks are running out of time, and history is not on their side.
James has been up 2-0 in a series 14 times and he has closed out all 14.
Although the Cavs have the Hawks on the ropes, James knows they’re dangerous. Cleveland’s two road wins have not given James any sense of security.
“We’re just as desperate as we were in Game 1 and Game 2,” he said.
The Hawks, though, are more distressed.
TALK THE TALK: James was wired with a microphone in Game 2 and was heard telling Irving, “I told you I got your back, G” after Cleveland’s win.
James explained what he meant.
“I told him before the game,” James said. “‘That’s why we’re a team. That’s why it’s next man up. And that’s what I’m here for and I got your back in whatever decision that you decide to make and know that we’re ready for you whenever you decide to come back, whenever you’re ready physically and mentally to come back.’”
MOVING PIECES: Budenholzer said he hasn’t decided who will start in place of Korver. One option is Kent Bazemore, who raised some eyebrows after Game 2 when he said, “I still think we’re the better team. We just haven’t shown it yet.”
PEACEMAKER: James urged Cleveland residents to remain calm and channel any anger in a positive way after a judge acquitted a while police office of manslaughter charges following the 2012 shooting deaths of two unarmed blacks.
“Violence is not the answer,” he said. “For the city of Cleveland, let’s use our excitement or whatever passion that we have for our sport for the game tomorrow night, bring it tomorrow night.”
James made similar comments following racially-charged cases in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York. But this one hits close to home, and James believes he and the Cavs can help the healing process.
“It doesn’t matter what city it is, something that’s going through a city that’s very traumatic, traumatizing or anything of that case, I think sports is the biggest healers in helping the city out,” he said.