OAKLAND, Calif. - If the Cavaliers are going to end Cleveland's 51-year drought of professional sports championships, it will have to happen without Kyrie Irving's services.
The All-Star point guard was diagnosed with a fractured left kneecap Friday and is out for the remainder of the NBA Finals against the Warriors, which resumes with Game 2 Sunday night at Oracle Arena.
The team said Irving, who was injured in overtime of Golden State's 108-100 win in Thursday night's series opener, had an MRI Friday that revealed the damage. He will need surgery in the coming days and his recovery time is projected to be three to four months.
It's no doubt a blow to the Cavaliers, particularly with how well Irving played after dealing with some nagging injuries that sidelined him for two games in the Eastern Conference finals. After fighting through tendinitis in his left knee and a strained right foot, he looked really good in his first extensive action in weeks. Irving had 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists -- not to mention a key block of Stephen Curry's layup with 26 seconds left in the fourth quarter -- in 43:37 before limping off the court with 2:02 left in overtime after a non-contact play.
Irving's absence means Matthew Dellavedova slides into the starting lineup. Without Irving's playmaking skills and scoring prowess, to hang with the deep Warriors, the Cavs might need more herculean efforts by LeBron James that mirror his 44-point outburst in Game 1.
"The good thing about it, we've been in this position before," James said about an hour before Irving's official diagnosis was revealed. "[It's] something that's not new to us. So next man up, and guys will be ready for the challenge."
In an Instagram post, Irving wrote: "Saddened by the way I had to go out but it doesn't take away from being a part of a special playoff run with my brothers. Truly means a lot for all the support and love. I gave it everything I had and have no regrets. I love this game no matter what and I'll be back soon."
James promised that seeing his sidekick go down in the Finals won't deter him. During James' first stint with the Cavaliers and in his initial appearance at the Finals in 2007, backcourt mate Larry Hughes missed Games 3 and 4 against the Spurs with a partially torn plantar fascia tendon in his left foot. Hughes said it felt as if he were walking on "hot marbles."
Cleveland has fended off injuries during its run, overcoming the losses of forward Kevin Love (shoulder) last month and Anderson Varejao (Achilles) in December.
But this depleted bunch now has to scrape together four victories against a Golden State team that is 80-18 in the last eight months and has lost only three times in this postseason.
"Well," James said, "there are a few things that you would love to have going late in the season: That's being healthy, having a great rhythm, and then you need a little luck as well. We've had a great rhythm. We haven't had much luck, and we haven't been healthy. But I haven't gotten discouraged.
"I understand the moment that I'm in, and I'm not too much worried about the game. I'm worried about the moment. I'm happy with the moment. I'm excited to be in this moment once again, and I'm going to stay strong for my team no matter who is or is not in the lineup."