Duke in the NBA: Irving's season ends in heartbreak with fractured kneecap

Making the first NBA Finals appearance of his career, former Blue Devil Kyrie Irving was bit by the injury-bug at the worst possible time. We take a look at the star's contributions in Game 1 and the long road to recovery ahead.

Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers: After missing two of four contests in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks, Irving was back on the court for Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors. The fourth year pro looked healthier than he has looked in weeks and tallied 23 points to go along with seven rebounds and six assists in 44 minutes of action.

Yet, despite Irving's revival and a dominant performance from LeBron James, the Cavaliers would fall short in a 108-100 overtime defeat. After Irving's squad built an early 14-point lead, the Warriors climbed back into the contest with a boost from their bench and narrowed the margin to two by halftime. In a back-and-forth second half, both teams missed chances to take control of the game. Despite Irving's eight fourth quarter points, a late run by the Warriors sent the game into overtime where the Western Conference champions eventually emerged victorious. The former Duke star finished the game 10-of-22 from the field and 2-of-8 from deep.

But perhaps bigger than any stat in the box score are two plays that will likely define Irving's breakout season with the Cavaliers.

Known as a subpar defender for much of his career, Irving was responsible for defending NBA MVP Stephen Curry—something that has been nearly impossible throughout the playoffs. Yet, the guard lived up to his All-NBA Third Team billing by showing he is capable of excelling on both sides of the ball. Irving recorded four steals and two blocks, including one that saved the Cavaliers from defeat in regulation. With the game tied and 26 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Warriors appeared to draw up a perfect play to take the lead with Curry having a straight line to the basket—only to be chased down by Irving who made an amazing recovery on the play. The block gave the ball back to the Cavaliers with a chance to win the game in regulation.

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But just went things seemed to be going the right way for the former Blue Devil standout, Irving's season took a devastating turn for the worse. With his team trailing by four points, Irving slipped and fell on an attack to the basket. Although he managed to regain his footing, the guard was visibly shaken and immobilized on the defensive end. After checking out of the game at the next stoppage in play, Irving limped to the bench before being taken to the locker room in an excruciating amount of pain.

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Although the Cavaliers management initially believed their 6-foot-3 point guard simply had a case of tendinitis in his knees, it was reported Friday that Irving fractured his left kneecap. The Australian-born guard is expected to miss 3-4 months and his loss deals the Cavaliers championship aspirations a serious blow.

Irving's injury may pale in comparison to how damaging of a blow this could be for the guards relationship with the team's front office personnel. Despite signing a five-year, $90 million contract during the offseason, the All-NBA guard has struggled through numerous injuries in his four year career—including a toe injury that caused him to miss substantial time at Duke.

Leading up to the NBA Finals, Irving had visited the renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews for an evaluation of his nagging knee pain. Despite clearance from Andrews to play in the Finals, Irving's father—Drederick Irving—had expressed concern for his son's health and the possibility of a further, more damaging injury. Yet, Cavaliers coach David Blatt showed no hesitation playing Irving—who recorded 44 minutes, tied for his third-highest mark all season—in his first game action in nearly a week.

With a long road to recovery ahead, it remains to be seen how well Irving can respond to another major setback and to growing tension between his camp and Cavaliers management.

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