I still disagree with the decision to play Kyrie Irving. The risk is entirely too high and the reward is too little for my tastes.
That said, it was encouraging to see Irving get up quickly after taking a hard shot from Elton Brand with 3:45 left in the first half. Brand hammered him on the foul and Irving landed on his right arm and shoulder before crashing into the stanchion under the basket.
The fact Irving didn't even wear a protective sleeve tonight, then popped up after the fall, shows that the shoulder is indeed healthy. That doesn't mean it's the right decision.
"Tanking" is a sensitive word in NBA circles, but the Cavs can make a legitimate argument for shutting down their star. All they have to say is something to the effect of "He has missed 13 games to injuries, he's endured a concussion and a shoulder injury this year and we have big plans for him this summer. We want to make sure he's fully healthy and rested for our offseason program." No one could argue that defense.
Byron Scott said tonight how much he loves the competitive streak inside Irving and appreciates how Irving wants to play. He loves it and appreciates it because he was the same way as a player. This is one of the few instances where maybe the fact Scott is a former player actually hurts him as a coach. He's older and wiser than he was in his playing days, but he still has the competitive juices.
Even if Irving makes it through this final week without incident, I still don't see how the risk justifies the reward.
Irving said he rushed his first couple of shots and was understandably anxious after missing so much time with the injury. He played a touch under 20 minutes tonight and Scott said he'll now start increasing Irving's minutes little by little.
I wouldn't be surprised if he misses two of the last five games, just as a precaution.
Cavs players as a whole are exhausted. Understandable, given the schedule they've endured. Every NBA team is in the same position, but I wonder if this condensed season will wreak havoc in the playoffs, with teams not expected to win pulling upsets over veteran teams who simply have nothing left. Just a thought.
Cavs: Samardo Samuels 15, Lester Hudson 15 points, Tristan Thompson 12 points, Kyrie Irving 9 points, 4 assists. 76ers: Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala 19 points, 13 rebounds, Elton Brand 12 points, Thaddeus Young 12 points.
The Cavs are tied with the Sacramento Kings for the league's fourth-worst record.
The Sixers scored 19 consecutive points and outscored the Cavs 24-2 during the third quarter to take a commanding 81-59 lead.
"My heart did drop a little bit there. Not going to lie. Elton looked over and said, 'I wasn't trying to hurt him.'' I said, 'I know it, he's a Duke guy.'" -- Byron Scott, on Elton Brand knocking Kyrie Irving to the ground on his right shoulder