Did the Cavs buy more time for Irving?
CLEVELAND - Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday night was, as usual, about LeBron James and all the things he does that most humans can not.
The King -- James most certainly was that in a 114-111 Cleveland Cavaliers victory -- might have also bought some time for his most gifted running mate, All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. The Cavs now lead the Atlanta Hawks, 3-0, despite Irving sitting out the last two games. James went for 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists and handled most of the point guard duties on Sunday.
Irving has been battling a right foot strain and tendinitis in his left knee since the first round of these playoffs, which started more than a month ago. He had a second MRI last Friday.
The picture surrounding Irving's status is cloudy. But in the big picture, the Cavs are trying to win the biggest prize and are now one win from reaching the NBA Finals, and that fewer games means less strain on Irving's body.
Irving worked out on the Quicken Loans Arena floor for around 45 minutes before Sunday night's game. When Cavs coach David Blatt met the media about two hours before the game, he said Irving was with team doctors and would be a gametime decision.
A little less than an hour before tipoff, the Cavs declared Irving out. After the game, Blatt called it "a doctor's decision" and said he doesn't know about Irving's status for Tuesday's Game Four.
On the television broadcast of Sunday night's game, TNT's Rachel Nichols reported during the first quarter that Irving told Cavs general manager David Griffin he felt "much improved" following his pregame workout. Nichols said that team doctors didn't believe Irving "had enough strength in the knee" to play.
"In consultation with the doctors...we decided to hold him out," Blatt said.
The Cavs got another strong performance from Matthew Dellavedova, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in Game Three -- Smith and Dellavedova each scored 17 points, and Shumpert had 15 -- and were able to outlast the Hawks in a wild game. After Shelvin Mack missed a pair of 3-pointers in the final seconds of overtime, James went to both knees on the floor in a moment of exhausted reflection.
"I gave it everything I had tonight," James said. "It's a huge win for our team."
James, who played 46:47 in Game Three, is tired. With Game No. 96 of a season that started in October coming Tuesday, everybody is.
"We are missing guys and missing minutes," Blatt said. "Fortunately, TV timeouts are long and the number of timeouts is great. We're figuring out how to get a little extra rest for guys."
James got his knee examined by trainers during two different first-half stoppages. He grimaced while holding his wrist following a third-quarter collision. In overtime, he started to ask out of the game before changing his mind after he came away from a rebound favoring his right leg.
"I've been better," James said. "I'll be getting around the clock treatment, as usual."
The Cavs would love to get James and Irving as much rest as possible.