By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com
CLEVELAND – He’s definitely not 100 percent, but Cleveland Cavaliers’ point guard Kyrie Irving was finally healthy enough to put his uniform back on and “compete with (his) brothers,” once again.
After being sidelined for Games 2 and 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals due to tendinitis in his left knee, Irving was cleared by Cavs’ doctors to play, shortly before tip-off.
“It felt amazing just to be out there,” he said of his return to action. “I definitely wanted to be out there and be part of this celebration, especially in a close out game like that. I just wanted to give my teammates a spark and come in there and make an impact and I try to do that.
“It’s all about having the trust of my teammates to not necessarily be 100 percent, but they want me out there. I am a competitor.”
In his recent absence, Matthew Dellavedova has filled the starting point guard position, and, although he subbed in nicely, scoring 17 points in Game 3, the Cavalier faithful were thrilled to see Irving back in the starting line-up.
Head coach David Blatt announced that the decision to sit Irving out of Games 2 and 3 were strictly doctors orders. When Irving went to Florida to visit Dr. James Andrews for an opinion right before Game 2, the injury appeared to be at a stand-still and the risk of too much activity before it began to fully heal properly could put him at risk for increased damage.
Before Game 4, the team decided to take a different approach to his treatment, and although he didn’t specify the terms, whatever it was worked.
“We kind of took a different approach, it terms of what we were doing,” Irving said. “My knee felt a lot better than it did the last three weeks and we got things done. Those four days were definitely important for me, for my body and definitely taking my health serious.
“LeBron (James), (Matthew Dellavedova,) Iman (Shumpert) and (J.R. Smith) all told me that they had my back and that they support me no matter what. Always just trying to be the best teammate and go out there and support my teammates."
Irving started the game on a tear, scoring his first five points in the first 2:31 of the game and finished the first quarter with nine points on 4-of-6 shooting.
“He did fabulously. Fabulously,” Blatt said of Irving’s night in totality. “He played beautifully. But it is a lot bigger than that. The fact that he came back to play and the fact that he wanted so badly to be a part of us winning this series and being able to move forward.
“He wanted to much to be with his guys and be able to contribute.”
He finished the game having played nearly 22 minutes and scored 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting with five assists and four rebounds.
“We know that Kyrie is one of the top basketball players in the world,” Blatt added. “We needed his minutes. It was good for the guys too. It was good for the guys to see Kyrie out there. And, now the fact that we won tonight, that was one of the reasons that we really wanted to get him back tonight because we wanted to have this break to get him well.
“He stepped in there and he really, really lifted us. Did a great job. A great job.”
Although he was technically a game-time decision, and required medical clearance, Irving said that the decision was his own, and he knew deep-down last night that he would take the floor to help propel his team into the NBA Finals.
“I knew that I wasn’t going to sit on a bench and watch our guys go through a close out game, "he said. "I just wanted to be out there so bad. These last four days have kind of been hell for me, it was ice and ice and ice.
“I just wanted to be a part of this close out game so bad.”
By Jason Gibbs | ESPNCleveland.com
CLEVELAND -- Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals featured plenty of quotable moments. Here are a few of our favorites:
"Kyrie Irving playing tonight is the dumbest thing since the Seahawks passed from the 2-yard line against the Patriots."
-- Charles Barkley on TNT before game four. Not exactly one of Sir Charles finest moments.
“I think his confidence has gone to another level. Having watched and prepared –watching how he orchestrates and, I think, has a great command for where he wants his teammates and what’s important in the moment and the confidence he has in himself to make the right play, whether it’s making a shot, making the pass. As a leader, he’s grown. His confidence has grown. He’s a great individual player.”
-- Atlanta Head Coach Mike Budenholzer; thoughts on LeBron’s development and where he stands in the game today after going up against him for the better part of a decade.
“I think that moment came in a very, very memorable one, maybe the greatest below-the-rim tap in the history of the game, if you remember Delly’s tip-in. Now he wasn’t up over the rim, but he made it look natural, and he made it look special, just like that kid is. That’s when I kind of relaxed.”
-- Cleveland Head Coach David Blatt; when during the game did it sink in that your team was going to win and go to the NBA Finals.
“So Irving goes out and Tonya Harding comes into the game now for the Cavaliers.”
-- Atlanta Play-By-Play Voice Steve Holman; Holman’s call Tuesday night on the Hawks Radio Network when Matthew Dellavedova came into the game for the first time.
“I know it’s hard for people to understand because they don’t really know well my path and my career, but this is also a new situation for me and a new place for me. LeBron came home. I left home to come here, and I left a lot of people that I love dearly and a lot of people that I’m close, so close to, in order to pursue a dream, in order to do something in my career that I hadn’t had the opportunity to do. That’s a big sacrifice on the part of my family and the place that I’m from. It’s special because it’s all worthwhile.”
-- Cavaliers Head Coach David Blatt; what it means to him to win an Eastern Conference championship in his first year as head coach.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
-- Former President Theodore Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena excerpt from his Citizenship in a Republic speech; LeBron James referenced this quote tonight (it’s one of his favorites) in the postgame when asked if he uses Cleveland’s fifty year drought to fuel the team’s drive or separate himself from that pressure to win.
LeBron also added his own quote at the end:
“So for me as a leader, all I can do is lead these guys which I will do. The coaching staff will give us the greatest game plan they can to win against Houston, to win against Golden State but as far as guarantees, I cannot guarantee anyone. I can’t guarantee the championship. That’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to lead. But I will guarantee that we will play our asses off. We will, from the first minute to minute 48, or if it’s overtime, 53. We will do that. At the end of the day, that’s all I can ask for. That’s all we can give. But we will be in the Finals. I can guarantee that. Appreciate it.”
-- LeBron James
“LeBron vs. Steph is gonna be the best Finals matchup since Michael vs. Magic. Savor this, America.”
-- Seth Davis, College Basketball Reporter for Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports
I think someone might be getting a little ahead of himself but if it comes down to Golden State and Cleveland, Davis might be onto something.
By Nolan Murphy | ESPNCleveland.com
CLEVELAND -- Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals drew out a ton of stars, from pro athletes to world-famous actors.
In Attendance: Joe Haden, Joe Thomas, Eddie George, Eric Bledsoe, DeSean Jackson, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Connoly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon and Teyana Taylor.
Entourage cast: Kevin Connoly, Adrian Grenier and Kevin Dillon:
Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Connoly, Adrian Grenier and Kevin Dillon:
Browns left tackle Joe Thomas:
Met Joe Thomas!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/jToJ9O7o3M— Tara (@Tara_Grabowski) May 26, 2015
1995 Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George:
Redskins WR DeSean Jackson and Suns PG Eric Bledsoe:
Shaquille O’Neil and Stephan A. Smith:
Browns Defensive Back Joe Haden:
By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com
CLEVELAND – Earned. Not given. Not handed out or promised. Earned.
LeBron James averaged a near triple-double during the Eastern Conference Finals, while epitomizing leadership, to catapult the Cleveland Cavaliers on their first trip to the NBA Finals since 2007 – sweeping the Atlanta Hawks four games to zero.
“It is very emotional to be back in this city,” James at a celebratory post-game podium. “When I made my decision to come back here I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It was going to take a lot of hard work and dedication. It would be the toughest task for me to get this team back to the Finals.”
That was when James was the collective leader of Cleveland’s “Big Three.”
Kevin Love has now sat out the last ten games after having season ending shoulder surgery.
Kyrie Irving rarely played with 100 percent health while battling through a foot strain and knee tendinitis that sidelined him for Games 2 and 3 of the Conference Finals before returning to the starting lineup.
The self-proclaimed ‘Chosen One’ had his work cut out for him if he was going to claim that throne and inch closer and closer to delivering on the promise that he made to the City of Cleveland years ago; a Championship.
“For us to be sitting at this point today, being able to represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals, it is special. It is very special,” he said.
This accomplishment is nothing new for James. At this point, it is what’s expected of him. It is what he expects of himself. Now, for the past five seasons, he’s had the task of preparing a team for the NBA Finals.
“Where does this rank as far as my last four Finals appearances?” James pondered. “It’s special because it’s today, it’s tonight and to know how far we’ve come as a group. To know how inexperienced we are as a unit playing together, I think that is special in its own right.
“No matter what happens from here on out, to see what we have accomplished being a first year team together – that has had different course of changes throughout the year, that has faced so many obstacles throughout the course of the season, injuries here, transactions here, lineups here, that is something that we can be very proud of up until this point.”
Only having to play 29 minutes, James finished the series by scoring 23 points with nine rebounds and seven assists. Cleveland – noticeably energized by the return of their starting point guard, Irving – led by as many as 31 points, never giving the Hawks the slightest glimmer of hope for a comeback.
“My message at halftime, when we were up by 17 (points), my message to the guys was that our motivation was to get Joe Harris into the game,” James said. “That’s what I told the guys at halftime. I said our motivation for the second half was to get Joe Harris into the game.
“They answered the call.”
Harris, a rookie, had averaged just two minutes per game in the post-season thus far, and rarely played during the regular season unless there was a blowout. He, along with the likes of Kendrick Perkins, Brendan Haywood, Mike Miller and Shawn Marion helped dribble out the ball down the stretch, clinching the victory.
“I came here and I got the opportunity to work with a great group of guys, with the best player in the world and maybe in the history of the game,” head coach David Blatt said. “With wonderful management who’s given us every opportunity to succeed and with fans who are so loyal and have been for so many years, who just want a championship.
“So it makes me very happy and very proud to be a part of that and have this experience in my life.”
Blatt isn’t the only first-timer involved in this historic run. Irving, Thompson, Love and Matthew Dellavedova had never even played in a playoff game until the Cavs post-season journey tipped off against the Celtics in late April. Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith spent their first half of the season with the New York Knicks, a team that finished the year with just 18 wins.
“A dream come true,” Shumpert said sitting at his locker, looking relieved. “I have to tell everybody, when you come from the beginning of the season, me and J.R came from (a team) where you work your ass off but you’re not reaping the benefits on the day-to-day. To coming to a situation like this, you just live in that moment, and you play for that game in front of you and you just enjoy each game that you play.
“I knew we had a shot at it, but I knew we had a lot of work to do. It’s great that we’ve gone through what we’ve gone through and still have the same goal.”
That goal is undoubtedly the NBA championship.
The celebrations at The Q were filled with confetti, congratulatory hugs and a trophy presentation, but the overall vibe is that the Cavaliers aren’t quite content yet.
The inexperienced team is adapting to the mantra of their never satisfied veteran leader.
“All I can do is lead these guys,” James added. “Which I will do. The coaching staff will give us the greatest game plan we can to win against Houston or against Golden State, but as far as guarantees I cannot guarantee anyone. I can’t guarantee a championship. That’s not what I am here for.
“I am here to lead. I will guarantee that we will play our asses off. We will. From the first minute (of the game) until minute 48, or if its overtime, minute 53. We will do that.
“We will be in The Finals, I can guarantee you that.”
Quote of the night
“We’re not done yet.”
– David Blatt, in front of 20,562 screaming fanatics, during the post-game trophy presentation.
Tweet of the night
Photo of the night
J.R Smith was in the middle of answering questions, but first, let him take a selfie. No stick necessary. Smith then promoted his "@TeamSwish" Instagram account with the goal of getting 2 million followers so he could, "be more like LeBron."
Video(s) of the night
Still turnt and the tub cold as Hell https://t.co/nrWR30Wreb— Iman Shumpert I (@I_Am_Iman) May 27, 2015
By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com
CLEVELAND – After Cleveland Cavaliers’ forward Kevin Love was ruled out for the season because of shoulder surgery, the question of his ‘commitment’ and ‘allegiance’ to the Cavs continually surfaced. Many questioning wanted to know why injured center Anderson Varejao was travelling with the team, and sitting on the bench for most games after having surgery to repair a torn Achilles, but Love was nowhere to be seen.
He wasn’t cleared yet.
ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin had a conversation with Cavaliers’ general manager David Griffin who confirmed that Love travelled to New York to meet with his original surgeon, Dr. David Altchek, and after a scheduled re-evaluation, he was cleared to begin travelling with the team and is also no longer required to wear a sling.
Love sat behind the Cavs bench during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals and acknowledged the crowd with a wave of his right arm, not the surgically repaired left.
The injury to his left shoulder came in Game 4 of the Cavs' opening round sweep of the Boston Celtics -- it was dislocated after battling with Kelly Olynyk for a loose ball. Afterwards, Love said that he thought the play was 'intentional.'
He is reportedly in the infancy stages of his rehabilitation plan and has been spotted in the Cavaliers’ weight room and training facility.
The main concern for the organization, and fans, resides with Love’s potential free agent status come seasons’ end. He holds the right to opt out of the one-year remaining on his current deal to test the free agency market.
By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com
CLEVELAND – Cavs up, A-town down.
Grammy award winning singer, Usher – sitting courtside – counted four fingers and mouthed the words “it’s over,” to fans at The Q for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
As part owner of the Cavs, he was calling for a sweep of the Atlanta Hawks, a motion that sent a relatively tame crowd into mayhem to start the fourth quarter.
With LeBron James back in town, and the team’s recent success, Cavaliers’ games have been a hot bed for national media, celebrity sightings and superstar moguls to be seen and heard, all while enjoying watching arguably the best player in the world. And, as the season extends further and further into the playoffs, the names will continue to get bigger and the lights brighter.
Sunday night was no different.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel stayed true to his trend of at least attending the first game of every series:
His teammate, cornerback Joe Haden, was there yet again. Haden has been so dedicated to the Cavs on this run that he even travelled to Atlanta for the opening game of the Conference Finals.
Was that Joe Haden on the Cavs bench?— Patrick Claybon (@PatrickClaybon) May 25, 2015
Haden sat next to Cleveland native and rapper, Machine Gun Kelly. Reports say that Kelly made an impromptu appearance on the microphone at a bar in Cleveland afterwards, joined by NBA on TNT host and former Cavalier, Shaquille O’Neal.
the energy in there tonite was unexplainable. best fans in the world, and im proud to be one of them.… https://t.co/Yc5mE4hgJr— Machine Gun Kelly (@machinegunkelly) May 25, 2015
The Cleveland Indians are winners of six-straight games, their first baseman Nick Swisher was in the building as well.
Swisher, Kelly and Haden all took turns hyping up the crowd throughout the game.
A man very familiar with LeBron James and this type of playoff atmosphere, Chauncey Billups – taking notes for his ESPN analysis – arrived hours before the game even tipped.
NBA fans may remember him by another name…
Tribe manager Terry Francona was spotted taking photos with fans outside of the Cavs’ locker room during halftime.
Former Kentucky Wildcat and current NBA prospect Trey Lyles caught a close up view of what his future could hold.
Kansas City Chiefs' tight end Travis Kelce, and brother Jason Kelce of the Philadelphia Eagles were reportedly sitting in a suite. The two grew up in Cleveland Heights.
And, to top it all off, comedian Bill Bellamy and former Ohio State Buckeye Kosta Koufus:
Randomest of random postgame sightings: Kosta Koufos and Bill Bellamy— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) May 25, 2015