Here is an early link to my Saturday column about Kyrie Irving and basketball injuries in general. The full text runs below:
Kyrie Irving is out. Fractured knee cap. Requires surgery. The Cleveland Cavaliers just lost their point guard, a superb point guard, and certainly just lost the NBA Finals to the Warriors. Busted knee cap equals busted dream.
Irving limped off the court Thursday night after falling down for no apparent reason — there was no contact. It was a very bad sign. And now we know the truth. And the Cavs have no one to replace him. Not even close.
To his credit, Steve Kerr extended good wishes to Irving immediately after Game 1. Kerr understands playing in the Finals could be a one-time deal for lots of players. Players and coaches feel for each other — it’s that fraternity thing. And he wished Irving good health and the opportunity to play. To no avail.
Which leads to a larger issue.
The Warriors have been remarkably lucky with opposing point guards in postseason 2015. The starting point guards all went down. Point guard is the most important position for the opponent because that player usually guards Stephen Curry, or guards him lots of the time. And Curry usually guards him. In the best of worlds, the point guard for the other guys affects Curry’s game — slows him down, bothers his shot, makes him work hard on defense. You know the drill. But it hasn’t worked that way. Curry has had license to be the best possible Steph.
Check out the grim roll call of injured point guards.
Round 1: Jrue Holliday was hurt for the Pelicans and played limited minutes. That hurt New Orleans, not that New Orleans could have beaten the Warriors in a million years. But it made things easy for the Warriors, as in sweep.
Round 2: Mike Conley was hurt for the Memphis Grizzlies. Bad leg. He even missed a game. Conley is an elite point guard and he could have worried Curry. Didn’t happen.
Round 3: Houston’s point guard Patrick Beverley was strictly a spectator. Broken arm. Broke a lot of Texas hearts. He has given Curry trouble to the extent anyone can give him trouble. Instead, Jason Terry tried to guard Curry, Terry 1,000 years old. Good luck. Well, no luck at all.
Round 4: Irving. See above.
The decimation of the point guards has had major implications for the Warriors. Teams without point guards are easier to beat. You might even say a cinch to beat. And that means right now is the Warriors’ window of opportunity. It’s not even a window of opportunity. Forget windows. They’re so tiny. This is the freeway of opportunity. This is Interstate 5 running like a bullet through the heart of California. The Warriors’ I-5 is now. No one knows what happens next season.
The fate of Holliday, Conley, Beverley and Irving means one other thing. Except for Memphis, the Warriors have played — are playing — one-man teams. New Orleans was Anthony Davis. Houston was James Harden. Cleveland is LeBron James.
A good team like the Warriors, a deep and well-balanced team like the Warriors can beat a one-man team. Any one-man team. Even if that one man is James.
So, the Warriors lucked out with opponents’ injuries and they lucked out with their own. No one gloats over injuries, but they are part of the game. Teams deal with them. They push on.
The Warriors have been remarkably free of injuries this season. They have one great player and a great defense and depth galore, and all that matters. The lack of injuries matters just as much. Call the Warriors blessed when it comes to injuries.
The Warriors have had two injured players. I call those “good” injuries. Please let me explain.
No one wants a player to get hurt. Ever. So I am not advocating injuries. But I’m saying the two injuries the Warriors suffered worked out well — everything worked out well for the Warriors this season.
First was David Lee. He got hurt early in the season and rehabbed, and everyone thought he would get well and be the power forward again. The Warriors pay him a fortune and custom prevails in sport. You can’t lose your job to an injury. Ask Lee about that. Ask Alex Smith while you’re doing your asking.
While Lee was gone, Kerr noticed Draymond Green is a better player than Lee. A better power forward, a better 4. Not just a little better. Way better. Green plays defense. Lee tries to play defense, bless his heart, but not well. Green defends all five positions and dribbles the ball up the court and shoots 3s and is a winner, has that indefinable “It.” Lee does not.
Lee never reclaimed his spot — all credit to Kerr in going against tradition. In the long run, Lee’s injury worked out well for the Warriors. They might not be in the Finals if he had become the starter again. Imagine this team without Green as a starter. What was good for the Warriors was sad for David Lee. That tells you something about life.
The other injury was to Marreese Speights. He got hurt in the playoffs and Kerr began using Festus Ezeli as the backup to center Andrew Bogut. This was another good injury for the Warriors although, again, no one wanted Speights hurt. Speights is a good jump shooter, an unusual talent for a center. Ezeli is a real center. He rebounds. He defends like a maniac. And he has low-post moves to the hoop.
Every day in practice, you can see him working on those moves. Coach Jarron Collins guards Ezeli in the post, and coach Ron Adams throws bounce passes to him. Ezeli grabs the pass and moves left or right for a shot off the backboard. Now you see Ezeli doing that in games. He has made a difference in the postseason and he can be a serious center in the NBA.
So sure, I’m saying the Warriors had good luck this season, extending through the playoffs. I’m also saying they’re the best team in the league. And I’m thinking a good thought for Kyrie Irving.
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