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Cavaliers need 'sharp' Kyrie Irving in Game 2

OAKLAND, Calif. -- This year's NBA Finals have been billed as not only a rematch between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, but as an epic battle for control of the perch as the league's top dog between LeBron James and Stephen Curry.

The marketing ploy has already paid off, with the Warriors' Game 1 win drawing the best ratings for a Game 1 in the history of ABC airing the Finals. However, the marquee matchup between James and Curry is just a manipulation. It is Kyrie Irving, not James, who will be tasked this series with tangling horns with the two-time MVP possession after possession.

While Golden State won the opener, Irving more than held his own against Curry, putting up 26 points, three rebounds, four assists, three steals and three turnovers to Curry's 11 points, five boards, six assists and five turnovers.

Yet, when the Cavs reviewed the tape to assess what went wrong in the 104-89 loss, it was Irving's play -- particularly down the stretch when he seemed to get caught up in one-on-one opportunities against Curry -- that was identified as an area Cleveland can improve in Game 2.

"We want Kyrie to be aggressive, but it has to be sharp, quick attacks," said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. "You can't dribble for eight or nine seconds. We had that discussion, and he understands that.

"But we need him to score the basketball. We need him to be aggressive. If there's one guy that can go one-on-one on the perimeter, it is Kyrie, because he's very special. Outside, taking advantage of mismatches in the post with Kevin [Love] and LeBron, Kyrie is the one guy that we have that can break guys down off the dribble.

"So it's going to be a fine line, but he has to be quicker on the attack rather than letting them load up [on defense]."

Irving has had his personal challenges at point guard this postseason, from the capable Reggie Jackson in Detroit, to the two-man tandem of Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder in Atlanta, to the gritty Kyle Lowry in Toronto. Curry, of course, is a different beast. Like Bowser in a flying clown face in Super Mario World, this final boss is a far more advanced challenge than anything Irving faced on the previous levels.

After toiling through six months of rehab stemming from the fractured left kneecap he sustained in Game 1 of last year's Finals -- literally needing to learn how to walk again along the way -- the opportunity for Irving to declare to the basketball world "I'm back" by outperforming Curry is unmistakable.

But it can also be a trap. Irving went 1-for-9 in Game 1 in possessions that involved one pass or fewer. As great as he is individually, if he makes this series about him versus Curry, it will probably end up hurting both him and his team.

"It's fun," Irving said of the matchup. "Because we know both teams are going to do everything possible to stop myself and [Curry]. So both defenses are definitely designed to limit us of feeling comfortable. And a few times of me and him playing one-on-one, you can see that help side is always going to be there, and guys are forced to make great plays, which is what it's about. People want to see that.

"You just try not to get too much into the mental aspect of it of me versus him, because that's not what it's about. We wouldn't be here without our teammates. But it's just awesome going against a guy like that."

It's a delicate situation for James to comment on. He knows that a motivated Irving can be one of the best players in the league. He also knows that any one player trying to dominate without involving his teammates is usually unsustainable.

"At the end of the day it's not about myself or Steph or Klay [Thompson] or Kyrie or Draymond [Green] and the list goes on and on," James said before practice Saturday. "It's about the Warriors and the Cavs. You win a championship, we all don't get an individual trophy, you know. You all get your individual rings. But at the end of the day, it's about a team. This is one of the greatest ultimate sport team games. So it's not about [one player].

"I think as an individual, when you're going against the best, your competitive side automatically kicks in. So no matter who is across from you, you want to be able to hold your end of the bargain against the guy across from you. So that's just competitive nature. I think everyone knows that. But we don't come into a game saying, 'OK, it's Kyrie versus Steph. It's Swish [J.R. Smith] versus Klay.'"

James has been very deliberate this postseason with keeping Irving and Love involved. What's the good in taking over one game at the risk of alienating teammates he knows he'll need to ultimately win the championship they're all after?

It's why he empowered Irving on Saturday, labeling him the team's quarterback, but also reeled him in a bit, calling himself the offensive coordinator and Lue the head coach. Sure, the QB can call an audible or even scramble and keep the ball himself, but the most efficient ones use their teammates to keep the defense guessing.

"Sometimes you just take it upon yourself to either get a bucket in transition or a lay-up in the half court," said Irving. "But attacking my matchup is what has really worked thus far. I've talked to T. Lue as well as LeBron over the last few days of how to attack better in Game 2 ... but I'm going to continue to have that aggressive mindset."

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