OAKLAND -– The Big Three was down to The Big Two after Kevin Love sustained a dislocated shoulder in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
And with Kyrie Irving’s undergoing playoff-ending surgery Saturday to repair a fractured kneecap, now the Cleveland Cavaliers must carry on in the NBA Finals against the Warriors with just one of their marquee players available.
LeBron James tried to do it all even with Irving playing 44 minutes on Thursday in the opener. James scored 44 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Cavs’ 108-100 overtime loss to the Warriors in Game 1 at Oracle Arena.
How will his approach be different in Game 2 on Sunday night without the team’s All-Star point guard?
“Well, if I get more aggressive than 36 shots,” quipped James, who actually attempted 38 shots and made 18 on Thursday night. “I might have about 58 of them things tomorrow night. I don't know how much more aggressive you want me to get at this point.”
The Cavaliers have experience playing without Irving during the playoffs. He sat out the entire second half of Cleveland’s close-out game against the Chicago Bulls in the conference semifinal. And Irving did not suit up for two games in the Cavs’ sweep of the Atlanta Hawks in the conference finals.
“Look, we've found a way,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. “Obviously, we won a Chicago series without Kevin and with Kyrie pretty limited and missing a couple of games or missing parts of games.
“Obviously, in the Atlanta series the same thing with Kev out and Kyrie out for parts of that series. That's a credit to the work that all the team has done. Certainly, LeBron has recognized the need to take even more responsibility and has done it in a great way.”
James nearly averaged a triple-double for the Atlanta series with 37 assists and 44 rebounds to go along with his 30.3-point average in the four games. James has actually been more of a facilitator in the offense without Irving.
Perimeter players J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova got more involved in the offense with crisper ball movement and fewer isolation half-court sets. Dellavedova, an undrafted second-year player from Saint Mary’s, is likely to get his third starting assignment in the postseason in place of Irving. Dellavedova is a spot-up perimeter shooter who typically tosses lobs to big men Tristan Thompson or Timofey Mozgov when he drives.
“LeBron's going to look to probably move the ball more and get everybody some better looks,” said Warriors guard Stephen Curry, the league’s MVP. “Dellavedova has a different game than Kyrie, so when he's involved in one three pick and rolls or he's involved in their action, you have to know his strengths. When he's driving, being able to stay disciplined, and also be able to stay tight on him because he's obviously a knock-down shooter.
“So if you got him easy looks worrying about LeBron and sending extra help when you don't really need to, he can definitely kill you, and that's what he's shown in the last couple series.”
Thompson, who had just two points but 15 rebounds in the opener, believes James will help jump-start his entire Cavaliers' supporting cast.
“I guess with Delly in, or whoever we may add into the starting lineup, there's going to be a little more ball movement just because of the guys we have on the court,” Thompson said. “When we're moving the ball and we're sharing it and screening for each other, pinning away, we're tough to guard.
“So we've made our adjustments. But also, at the same time, if LeBron's on the block, that's almost your best bet right there.”