INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Kyrie Irving couldn't handle playing with just one hand. Now, it's the Cleveland Cavaliers turn.
Irving will be sidelined for the next month with a broken left index finger, the latest injury to the NBA's reigning rookie of the year and a devastating blow to the rebuilding Cavs, who have lost six straight and must face playing without their talented star point guard.
"It's frustrating," Irving said Wednesday. "But we're just going to get through it and just gotta stay positive."
Right now, that's about all the 20-year-old can do.
Irving suspected his finger was hurt badly on Saturday, when he inadvertently struck the foot of Dallas' Darren Collison while trying to swipe the ball from the Mavericks guard. Irving returned to the game after X-rays came back negative. He played the rest of the game with his finger heavily taped and again on Sunday night at Philadelphia.
But Irving wasn't the same, and he struggled handling the ball while scoring a season-low 9 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
"I couldn't hold onto the ball, especially at the end of the game when I'm at my best," he said. "It was frustrating."
An MRI taken Monday revealed a hairline fracture, an injury he could play through but at the risk of doing more damage and missing several months.
The Cavs aren't taking any chances.
"If he really gets this thing hit again, then it requires surgery and then instead of weeks, you're talking about months," Cavs coach Byron Scott said. "I don't think we're being overly cautious by saying, 'Let's shut it down and see how it looks in a couple weeks and go from there.'"
The broken finger is the latest medical setback for Irving, who dismissed the idea he was injury prone when the Cavs opened training camp in October. Back then, he was returning from a broken right hand he sustained when Irving slammed a padded wall in frustration during a summer league practice.
Last season, Irving missed 15 games with a shoulder sprain and concussion. His college career at Duke was limited to 11 games because of a serious foot injury that took nearly one year to completely heal.
"I'm just glad it's not injuries, knock on wood, such as something that could keep me out for six months," Irving said. "I'm going to miss a few games, I'm aware of that but you just gotta stay positive. Things happen in the game of basketball and obviously I can play, but I'm just being cautious right now."
As soon as he hurt his finger, Irving sensed it was serious.
"I just knew it wasn't a jammed finger," he said. "I've jammed almost every finger on my hand, so I just knew when it started turning black and blue. I just thought it was a bad sprain, but it turned out to be broken."
After sitting and watching practice, Irving, with his index and middle fingers taped together and braced by a splint, stayed on the floor and shot jumpers. Scott would prefer if Irving would stay off the court completely, but he knows better than to ask.
"He's hardheaded," Scott said.
Irving and Scott have formed a close bond that goes deeper than player and coach. Scott feels Irving's disappointment and he's doing all he can to keep his best player's spirits high.
"This morning just watching him and talking to him briefly he was a little frustrated," Scott said. "But he'll get over it. He understands right now we have to do the best thing for Kyrie. That's getting this treatment, letting this thing heal and not putting him in harm's way."
The Cavs are just 2-8 with Irving, who entered the season intent on improving his already superb game and hopefully bringing his team along for the ride. Cleveland will be without him for as many 20 games, and Scott has no idea if the Cavs can improve without Irving leading them.
"It's always one of those things where one of your best players goes down, it's an opportunity for other guys," Scott said. "That's how our guys have to look at it. We haven't changed our outlook going into games. The main thing is to go in there, try and compete and win."
"Now that he's out, we're still trying to focus on those little things we're trying to improve on."
Scott has not decided if he'll start Donald Sloan or Jeremy Pargo in place of Irving, whose 22.9 points, 5.6 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game will be tough to replace. Rookie Dion Waiters, who starts at shooting guard, will continue to play some point.
As difficult as it might be, Scott knows there's no sense in dwelling on Irving's injury. With 72 games left, the Cavaliers must move on.
"We still have a lot of games to go and we have a long ways to go to where we want to get to on both ends of the floor," Scott said. "The biggest thing is, we still know we can win. We've just got to play a little bit of a different style on the offensive end, but we still feel we've got enough guys in this room capable of winning."
Just not the most important one.