Kyrie Irving has proven to be the barometer for success during the 2016 NBA playoffs for Cleveland.
The team has captured 12 victories as it seeks the first title in franchise history, and Irving has
A year ago, Golden State proved LeBron James isn’t capable of winning a championship series on his own, even though he came close.
The Cavaliers fell in six games as James pressed to deliver on both ends of the floor.
James averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game as Irving sat out the final five games of the series with a separated knee cap and Kevin Love missed the last three rounds of the post season with a dislocated shoulder.
The status of Love for the remainder of the series is unclear, as he was forced into the league’s concussion protocol program after receiving an inadvertent elbow to the head from Harrison Barnes Sunday night.
Love was cleared to travel with the team back to Cleveland, but the team hasn’t confirmed if he will play.
Even if Love is in the starting lineup, the Cavaliers are desperate to find some consistent scoring production and it needs to come from the point guard position.
Golden State made it a habit to limit Irving.
Aside from a stellar performance in Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals — when he posted 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals before suffering a season-ending knee injury — the Warriors have been able to hold the three-time All-Star point guard in check.
In nine career appearances against Golden State, Irving has been limited to 19 points on 39.6 percent shooting from the field, 4.4 assists, 4.1 rebounds and has turned the ball over 2.7 times a game.
Irving has been exceptional at creating his own scoring looks off the dribble, but those opportunities have been sparse against the Warriors.
Following a pair of games at Oracle Arena, Irving has essentially been relegated to an afterthought, as he has posted 18 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.5 assists per game.
During the series opener, Irving drove to the basket on 15 occasions, but managed to generate just 16 total points.
Eleven of his game-high 26 points came off drives to the basket, but he created just five total points for his teammates off his runs to the rim.
Golden State began forfeiting the lane, daring Irving to drive as he turned the ball over as frequently as he dished out an assist.
During the regular season, Irving converted just 55.9 percent of his layup attempts, a figure right in line with the league average.
Irving is shooting just 33 percent from the field in the series, but the number that should be even more startling for Cleveland is that he has managed to dish out only five assists.
The only adjustment Golden State made in the second game of the series was to avoid fouling Irving.
The former Duke standout supplemented his poor shooting in the opener by connecting on 11-of-12 attempts at the foul line.
Sunday night, Irving failed to earn any free throw attempts, as he finished the night with just 10 points on 5-of-14 shooting from the field.
To jumpstart Irving, the Cavaliers need to entrust him with making the correct decisions with the ball.
Irving has taken possession of the ball an 81 times a night during the championship round, four more than he has averaged during the playoffs, but the time he has held the ball has decreased, going from 6.6 minutes a night during the post season down to 5.9 in the Finals.
The Warriors have excelled at clogging the passing lanes, especially for Irving. The 6-foot-3 player out of Duke has averaged 9.1 potential assists during the post season, but since the start of the NBA Finals, that number has been reduced to 5.0 a night.
Cleveland breezed through the Eastern Conference as its offense simply overwhelmed its first three opponents.
The Cavaliers have averaged 103.9 points per game in the 2016 playoffs, with 12.1 points a night being setup by the passing of Irving.
James has been the primary passer for the Cavaliers, as his 7.3 assists per game rank as the fourth highest total among all players and is 2.5 more than Irving has averaged.
A year ago, James managed to capture two victories while shouldering the entire burden of carrying the team.
Unless Irving can become incorporated into the flow of the offense, the team could be the first to be swept in the NBA Finals since the 2007 Cavaliers, a team that struggled to produce aside from James.