OAKLAND, Calif. -- After dealing with persistent left knee tendinitis for nearly a month, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving has accepted two truths heading into Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday: The pain isn't going to go away, but the pain isn't going to stop him from playing either.
"It's an adjustment, but it's what it is at this point," Irving said at Finals media day on Wednesday. "But I'm just going to go out there and will myself to play."
Cavs coach David Blatt, who had expressed confidence in his All-Star point guard's abilities late last week before changing his tune about Irving on Monday by saying his rehabilitation "progress has been slow," reiterated that there was "no specific setback" between Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals to now that put Irving in jeopardy for the championship round.
"You know, without having Kyrie at full strength for quite some time now, preparation-wise, and game-wise, playing, not playing, number of minutes, ability to perform at the level he normally does, and most importantly for him to be able to function without furthering injury, those are things that are constantly under consideration, and constantly on our minds as a staff and as a team," Blatt said. "It's made it difficult."
LeBron James expressed that the more difficult situation would not be having Irving at all.
"I can appreciate him just fighting through it," James said. "It's difficult on him for sure. We want the best. Whatever he can give us, it's going to be great for our team. Kyrie at 50 (percent), Kyrie at 60, Kyrie at 70 is better than Kyrie at zero.
"His presence on the floor (is impactful). When that No. 2 Irving steps onto the court, he's a presence. And the defense has to be aware of him, has to account for him just because of his abilities to make plays. But you definitely can appreciate it."
Irving said he is "trying to do whatever I can to be prepared" for the series opener. Part of that preparation has been sitting out certain drills in practice. During the portion of Cavs' practice that was open to the media Wednesday, Irving sat on the bench.
"It's definitely tough because obviously mentally and physically you want to be in line," Irving said. "It's just like some of the things I'm thinking about doing mentally, you know, your body just kind of stops and you catch yourself a little bit sometimes.
You've got to get off the ball. But for me, it's just about finding my spots and seeing where I could be more effective out there for my teammates."
He was effective in the closeout game to sweep the Atlanta Hawks, putting up 16 points and five assists in 22 minutes.
Just like Irving promised to will himself to play, Blatt pledged not to harp on his team's ill-timed injuries in the playoffs.
"That is the situation," Blatt said. "You know, as we have in every other case this year, faced that with the same resolve and the same no quit attitude and have made it our model for no excuses. We play, and we play to win regardless of the situation."