Keys for LeBron, Cavs without Irving

Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving
(We won’t see Kyrie Irving for the rest of the Finals, so what are the Cavs to do?)

LeBron James has just lost the second of his newly concocted Big 3 during this postseason. Kevin Love went down in the first round, and now Kyrie Irving has been ruled out for the remainder of the season with a left knee injury, which he suffered in overtime of Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.

The surgery will leave Kyrie out for 3-4 months. Irving was admittedly not 100 percent during these playoffs, but willed himself to an inspiring 25-point effort on Thursday night, giving the Cavaliers huge boosts on both ends of the floor throughout Game 1. With no Irving and no Love, LeBron has been depleted of his elite talent core.

Popular opinion is swayed towards the idea that this series is officially over. Plenty of people felt the Cavaliers might not have enough to outlast the Warriors even with Irving, including yours truly. With Kyrie out, the Cavaliers have no choice but to do what all teams have to do when one of their main players go down: collectively respond. These are some of the keys to doing that.

J.R. Smith:

He’s next up on the talent depth chart for the Cavs. Now he has a job that should be very, very easy for him — he has to take 15-25 shots. His 9 points in Game 1 were the Cavs’ only bench points. I think he should be in the starting lineup in Game 2 for a chance to get his early offensive rhythm. Smith has to be aggressive in looking to score but also in creating some opportunities for others, to give LeBron James some help in that regard.

Committee ball:

LeBron James scored, assisted, or created 64 of the #Cavs 100 points in Game 1 of the #NBAFinals

— Synergy Sports Tech (@SynergySST) June 5, 2015

LeBron was the Cavs offense in Game 1. The game plan was to literally impose his might on the Warriors, and it nearly worked, but the Cavaliers need to make some more efforts at running actual offense and putting a different pressure on the Warriors than just defending LeBron post-ups, as deadly as they may be right now. Without Kyrie the playmaking is scarce for the Cavs, but that’s why you need all five guys to be involved and confident because you have to compensate for his production.

Defense, lots (more) of it:

The Cavaliers maintained the physicality and grit we’ve seen from them in these playoffs, specifically on defense and on the glass. In the first half of Game 1 they sent consistent 3/4 court pressure, many times even denying Stephen Curry the initial inbound pass in the back court, but they went away from it in the second half. Aside from a few lapses the Cavs did a great job of making the Warriors work for their looks. They held them to just 14 points in transition where they’ve scored over 22 per game in the playoffs. How well they’re able to disrupt and defend the Warriors is still the biggest key for Cleveland, but even more so now because the chances of simply outscoring them are much slimmer without Irving.

Second chances

On second chance opportunities, the Cavaliers shot 1-for-11 in Game 1. Those extra possessions have to be capitalized on, and each possession in general has to be productive.

LeBron James

The challenge for LeBron now is to maintain his level of aggression from Game 1 while also having to initiate what the Cavs desperately need in a steady dose of committee ball. He takes pleasure in both, so I expect him to adamantly look to build up his teammates early on in Game 2. I might even look for LeBron to start at point guard in Game 2 with Smith-Shumpert-TT-Mozgov for size and scoring.


There’s no looking past the enormous task at hand for the Cavaliers, which has only now mounted without Kyrie. Going pound for pound with the Warriors is probably too much to ask from a strategic standpoint, but the Cavs have no choice but to try and compensate, and it has to come from everyone if they want to respond.


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