Fans in Cleveland know what it’s like. And I’m not referring to winning championships … we all know they’ve been bereft of one since 1964 when Hall of Famer Jim Brown was coronated in front of a crowd of 79,544.
But they do know a little something about getting to the Finals, only to go up against a significantly superior team with not too much of a chance according to the general public. They also are knowledgeable as it pertains to their crowned King LeBron James having to shoulder an astronomical load with haters looking for ammunition to their confirmation bias. And lastly, they’ve grown accustomed to watching their ball-handling wizard Kyrie Irving falter due to the injury bug that has plagued him throughout his career.
It surely didn’t look good when we watched Irving fall to the floor after an apparent knee injury in Game 1 – the same knee that had troubled him throughout the postseason. And if the trepidation didn’t immediately surface, ABC showed Irving take his jersey off and ferociously slam it down on the ground as emphatic as his teammate LeBron customarily finishes alley-oops.
The Warriors, in spite of James’s 44 points and a woeful combined 9-of-27 shooting performance from Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, corralled an overtime victory to march to a 1-0 series lead. After a nine-day layoff between the ending of the conference finals and the commencement of the NBA Finals, fans were indeed spoiled with the product we got to witness, but the fear is that the best may now be behind us.
The Cavaliers squandered a 14-point lead and in effect failed to take advantage of a Warriors team that didn’t look as sharp as they had the entire season, but the biggest loss came in the aftermath when MRI results revealed that Irving required season-ending knee surgery to repair a fractured left kneecap.
The optically displeasing fall for Irving was eerily similar to the one that transpired at FedEx Field in Landover on January 6, 2013. Fresh off an impressive Rookie of the Year campaign, Robert Griffin III was looking to defy all the odds up against him.
Griffin tore his ACL in 2009 at Baylor and then re-injured the knee in Week 14 of the 2013 regular season against the Ravens. But his heroic attempt, one that garnered attention and respect, ended in devastation in the playoffs. Just like that, all hope had been lost. The way he limped off the field with everyone cognizant of how delicate the situation was and how troubling the knee had been led to the overall consensus that he was done.
That’s exactly what it felt like Thursday night in Oakland when you heard Irving tell TNT’s Rachel Nichols that the pain wasn’t familiar to him. He detailed that this was a different feeling than the one he felt as a result of his nagging knee tendinitis, which indicated that the severity of this issue was a cause for extreme concern.
Kyrie certainly didn’t look like someone who would be able to play in Game 2 regardless of what the results said. Fans knew that it was time to brace themselves for the inevitable.
It’s similar to how Lakers Nation had to cope with Kobe Bryant’s career-changing Achilles injury. Coincidentally enough, that also occurred against Golden State. Bryant drove to the basket and felt a pop in his foot, as if he had been kicked. We saw the look on his face in the locker room with him being overcome by depressing emotions. Lakers fans saw their team overcome a 17-25 start to valiantly go on an impressive 27-12 streak that had thrust them into playoff contention, only to have their anointed savior succumb to the worst variable in sports: injury.
These things happen and it certainly sucks, not just for fans of the team, but for fans of the sport. We’ve waited this long to watch the two best teams from each conference vie for this level of immortality. Everyone raved about the exciting point-guard matchup between two great young players. But with one move to the basket that Irving has made a million times in his career, his season ended, and as far as I’m concerned, so did Cleveland’s.
Just like RG III, Kyrie “Uncle Drew” Irving was the recipient of the Rookie of the Year award, though the catastrophic knee injury for Irving didn’t occur in the same season he received the trophy. Both athletes know what it means to be the heartbeat of an organization. They also know what it means to hope their mental strength and desire to win be greater than that of their physical capabilities.
Irving has the benefit of playing with the best player in the world, so the Cavs still have a puncher’s chance. The fans in D.C. knew it was over and it was clearly visible on the scoreboard when it read 24-14 Seahawks at the end of the game.
But what’s even more disheartening was that this injury came after a sensational performance from Irving, as he tallied 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists, four steals and two incredible blocked shots on Stephen Curry (Including one that would’ve put Golden State ahead in the final seconds). He attacked the lane, finished at the rim and put in a ton of effort on the defensive end.
Unfortunately, Cleveland will have to carry on without him. We might see a historic performance by LeBron, and it would be one for the ages if he somehow carried his Cavaliers to victory. But in the end, I think we’re going to see similar results to the 2012 Yankees when they lost Derek Jeter in the ALCS, the 2013 Lakers when they lost Bryant and the 2013 Redskins when they lost Griffin. Kyrie Irving might not be Jeter, RG III or Kobe to his franchise because there’s some other guy wearing No. 23 who’s pretty darn good, but the premise is the same. Injuries like this are significantly demoralizing and awfully difficult to overcome.