With NBA playoff grind taking toll on Cavs and Hawks, will injuries decide series?
ATLANTA — While the Atlanta Hawks try to figure out who will guard LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers are just grateful the four-time MVP is still standing.
It’s understandable. This series could turn into a war of attrition — and they’ve only played one game.
In Game 1 alone, James was limping around, Kyrie Irving went to the bench and didn’t return and DeMarre Carroll is listed as day-to-day after being helped off the court.
There was "raging fear" swelling in Cleveland coach David Blatt when he saw James in obvious pain after rolling his right ankle for the second time in the playoffs.
But James, who said his first thought was "not again," simply tied his shoe tighter and was back on the court within minutes. He’ll be ready to go on Friday night in Game 2.
"He’s the closest thing to Superman there is out there," Blatt said. "That’s the only way I can explain it."
It’s unclear how effective he will be the rest of the playoffs. Irving hobbled into the series and played only about 3 minutes in the fourth quarter of Game 1 after tweaking his sore left knee.
"He wants to be out there at his best and he’s dealing with a situation that’s not easy for him," Blatt said. "On the other hand he’s still out there contributing and giving us things we really need and battling through this thing with heart and with courage."
Irving, who had 10 points and six assists, continues to receive treatment for tendinitis in the knee.
"We hope that he can play," Blatt said. "The nature of his problem is one that allows him to do so. It’s just a matter of discomfort and sort of having to deal with the elements and play through it."
The Hawks can relate.
Atlanta received good news when a MRI showed a sprain but no structural damage in Carroll’s left knee. He listed as questionable for Game 2.
The forward is Atlanta’s top perimeter defender and drew primary responsibility for guarding James. If Carroll can’t play, guard Kent Bazemore and power forward Paul Millsap could share that difficult assignment.
"The biggest thing is trying to limit everyone else," Bazemore said. "He’s going to get what he’s going to get. If you can kind of keep everyone else in the bottle, you have a better chance."
Some other things to watch in Game 2:
KORVER QUIET: Kyle Korver, one of the league’s top 3-point shooters in the regular season, has not scored in double figures in his last five postseason games. He attempted only five shots overall while making two of four 3s to finish with nine points in Game 1. Korver had two 3-pointers disallowed due to offensive fouls. His only other shot in the half led to a three-point play.
ONE-MAN BENCH: The Cavaliers had only one bench player score in Game 1 — but he scored a lot. Smith set a career playoff high with his 28 points, most coming while closely defended. He made 10 of 16 shots, including eight of 12 3s. He wanted more. "Honestly, I couldn’t really sleep last night," Smith said Thursday. "I just kept playing the game over and over again. More the shots I missed, believe it or not, than the ones I made."
SCHRODER SLUMPING: Dennis Schroder has been an explosive complement to starting point guard Jeff Teague, but he made only 2 of 10 shots with four assists. He missed each of his three 3-pointers. Coach Mike Budenholzer said he wouldn’t single out Schroder’s misses. "Our entire group, we could have gotten better shots," Budenholzer said.
SCOTT SITS: Mike Scott didn’t play off Atlanta’s bench in Game 1 after averaging 7.8 points in the regular season. Budenholzer said Scott, a power forward, probably won’t be an option against James. Mike Muscala had two points in 10 minutes as the top backup at power forward.
ALL-NBA AGAIN: James was a first-team pick to the All-NBA team for the ninth time in 12 years. "To be rewarded again with that, it means a lot," he said. "I’ve done something pretty cool in my career so far. Hopefully I can continue."