Cavaliers facing injury crisis after Game Three win

Jim Slater 11/06/2015
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Fighting to the end: Cavaliers.

At the rate their players are suffering injuries, the Cleveland Cavaliers might be accepting the NBA championship trophy in their hospital beds.

– #360view: LeBron James still the best but he needs support
– #360USA: Alberto Salazar walking on thin ice after drug exposé
– NBA Finals: Cavs task gets even tougher without Kyrie Irving

Already hit by two stars lost to play-off injuries, the Cavaliers had more health concerns after their 96-91 victory over Golden State to give them a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven title series.

Australian guard Matthew Dellavedova scored 20 points, including a pivotal 3-point play on a stumbling bank shot while being fouled late in the fourth quarter. But he needed an IV after the game and was taken to the Cleveland Clinic, unable to talk with reporters about his night, which also included five rebounds and four assists.

“He plays as hard as he can every day. He’s not afraid. He plays courageously. And everybody on this team has his back,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. “He’s going to give you everything he has. What’s not to love about the guy?”

And guard Iman Shumpert suffered a left shoulder injury in the first quarter when he ran into a screen set by Golden State’s Draymond Green.

The injury, in the same area as one that benched him for six weeks during the season, sent Shumpert to the locker room but he returned in the second quarter and played 32 minutes in all.

“Guys set screens and you usually go shoulder to shoulder a lot, and that time it hurt a little bit more than usual,” he said. “I was able to play so I’m happy about that.”

The Cavs are already without star forward Kevin Love, who suffered a separated left shoulder in the first playoff round, and star guard Kyrie Irving, who suffered a fractured left kneecap in the finals opener.

“We just can’t afford any more injuries. We just can’t. We’re already depleted,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said, ahead of Game 4 on Thursday night (start: 05:00, UAE time).

“When Shumpert came back on the floor with his shoulder wrapped and knowing he wasn’t 100 per cent and still competing, it means everything to the team. It means everything to me.”

James is averaging a record 41 points, 12 rebounds and 8.3 steals a game in the finals. Even he appeared to be cramping at the end of the contest, but he was more concerned with praising Dellavedova.

“He’s going to give everything he’s got. He’s going to throw his body all over the place,” James said. “It was great to have someone like that willing to sacrifice everything for the team.”

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#360view: Chameleonic Cavaliers find defensive identity

Jay Asser 9/06/2015
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James (c) and his Cavs teammates.

The emotion exploded out of LeBron James as the final buzzer sounded in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Game 2 win of the NBA Finals.

– NBA Finals: LeBron James inspires Cleveland to Game 2 win
– #360view: LeBron James still the best but he needs support
– #360USA: Alberto Salazar walking on thin ice after drug exposé
– NBA Finals: Cavs task gets even tougher without Kyrie Irving

He raised his arms, spiked the ball, roared ferociously and threw a haymaker into whatever air hadn’t already been sucked out of Oracle Arena.

It was a release after a gruelling 53 minutes of basketball warfare, 50 of which James spent extracting every last bit from his being. But it was also a statement that the Cavaliers are very much in this series and not some procedural formality standing in the way of the Golden State Warriors completing their perfect season.

Cleveland were the underdogs coming into the Finals, but as long as James stood, they had a chance.

Then Kyrie Irving fractured his kneecap in Game 1 to end his campaign, while the Cavaliers blew an opportunity to steal one on the road despite an imposing performance from James. Any chance they had to raise a banner and end the city’s 51-year championship drought appeared to slip away.

As it turned out, the most enduring aspect from the series opener wasn’t that Cleveland were lacking enough offensive help for James, but rather that defence has become their new identity. 

The thinking heading into the series – rightfully so – was that James, as masterful as he is, can’t generate enough offence by himself to outpace the high-powered attack of Golden State. But the Cavaliers’ defence has been so impressive, their margin of error on the other end of the floor has increased just enough for James to carry the load with success.

Cleveland aren’t three wins away from a title because of beautifully-run pick-and-rolls and unstoppable scoring. They’re three wins away because of gritty defence and unrelenting rebounding.

This was never supposed to be the blueprint.

Irving and Kevin Love were expected to make the Cavaliers an offensive juggernaut, capable of outscoring anyone. After Love suffered his season-ending injury, Cleveland morphed into another team out of sheer necessity and it’s been taken to the extreme with Irving now gone as well.

Tristan Thompson has replaced Love’s scoring and ability to stretch the floor with persistent offensive rebounding and defensive mobility.

Matthew Dellavedova has replaced Irving’s elite ball-handling and shooting with swarming coverage of Stephen Curry and hustle.

There are no pleasing aesthetics here.

This isn’t James finding cutters in Miami’s motion offence or playing at a hyper-efficient level.

It’s not how Golden State have played all season, but Cleveland have dragged the Warriors down to their level. Golden State aren’t fencing anymore, they’re brawling.

“Defence wins championships” is the old adage. We knew the Warriors had the defence to win, but the Cavs are proving they do too.

The way Cleveland held down Eastern Conference opponents in the playoffs wasn’t a mirage because of the level of competition. It was very much real and has transferred to the Finals against the NBA’s best team this season.

It all still feels unsustainable, however.

Can you really tilt the floor so far to one side and expect a single player to be your entire offence and ride that to a title?

Conventional wisdom says ‘no’, but there’s nothing conventional about LeBron and these Cavaliers.

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VIDEO: Reaction after the Cavaliers tie the NBA Finals at one game all

ashraf 8/06/2015
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Post-game reaction after the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors 95-93 in overtime on to tie the best-of-seven NBA Finals at a game apiece.


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