Kyrie Irving Cleveland Cavaliers
Kyrie Irving, pictured in Game 2 of the 2017 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 4, 2017 in Oakland, California, is the key for the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors in Game 3. Getty Images

There’s plenty to dissect when looking at why the Golden State Warriors have a 2-0 series lead heading into Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals, but one simple reason for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ struggles stands out among the rest. Kyrie Irving has not performed like the superstar that the defending champs need him to be.

That’s certainly not to say that Irving shoulders most of the blame for Cleveland’s two blowout losses. The Warriors might simply be too good for the Cavs after adding Kevin Durant to the best regular-season team of all time. Golden State has four All-Stars in the starting lineup and 14 straight wins to start the playoffs, including two blowout victories to start the series.

READ: Ranking The 10 Best Players In The 2017 NBA Finals

But the perception around the finals would be much different if Irving was playing anywhere close to his best basketball. Golden State’s two best players have performed like elite superstars, while the Cavs have only gotten that type of play from LeBron James.

James has done all he can through two games, averaging 28.5 points, 13.0 rebounds and 11.0 assists per game on 55.3 percent shooting. It hasn’t been enough to even give the Cavaliers a chance in the fourth quarter, with Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry combining for 65.6 points, 19.0 rebounds and 17.5 assists on 43.5 shots per contest.

As good as Kevin Love can be, the Cavs need Kyrie Irving to be the series’ fourth superstar. Either the point guard is going to play at an elite level, or Cleveland’s title defense won’t last much longer.

“We ride or die with Kyrie,” Love said after scoring 27 points in the 132-113 Game 2 loss. “Kyrie knows what he’s capable of in this building, in the league, at our building. I would imagine Kyrie’s going to come out and have a great Game 3.”

Irving has never been on the same level as the likes of Curry, Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul in the regular season, but he’s proven to be among the NBA’s top point guards in Cleveland’s biggest games. It’s what he did in the 2016 NBA Finals when he outplayed Curry, as well as in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics.

Irving averaged 25.8 points on 62.2 percent shooting against the Celtics, and his 42-point performance in Game 4 was one of the best individual feats of the postseason. James watched Irving take over as he sat on the bench with four fouls in that Game 4, and he knows the 25-year-old has the skills to give the Cavs a chance against a seemingly unbeatable team.

“I just tell him to continue to be patient. The game will come to you. Just keep asserting yourself,” James said Sunday night. “We have to figure out a way to get him going early. He’s been such a big piece of our success the last three years, obviously. He missed some chippies, ones he’s so accustomed to making.”

Just look at Irving’s numbers in the 2016 NBA Finals. He scored 30 points per game on 51.7 percent shooting in Cleveland’s four wins, compared to 23.3 points on 40.6 percent shooting in the team’s three losses. The point guard put up 25 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and seven steals when the Cavs beat the Warriors on Christmas Day this season. He was held to 17 points, two assists, two rebounds and six turnovers when Cleveland lost their only regular-season visit to Oracle Arena.

That’s not to mention the game-winning shots he’s made, putting Cleveland ahead for good with a three-pointer at the 53-second mark in Game 7, as well as his go-ahead field goal in the Cavs’ final possession on Dec. 25.

That same player, however, has been nowhere to be found in the finals. Irving scored 24 points on 22 shots with two assists and four turnovers in Game 1. He needed 23 field-goal attempts just to put up 19 points in Game 2.

A lot of the credit goes to Golden State’s defense, which gets overshadowed because of the team’s offensive firepower. Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are all elite defenders, and only the San Antonio Spurs allowed fewer points per possession than the Warriors in the regular season.

Irving, however, is too good to struggle like this for much longer. He’s probably the best finisher at the rim in the NBA, and he’s up there with Curry for the best ball-handling skills of anyone in the league.

Even as he struggles to put up points, Irving has made five of his 10 three-point attempts, continuing the 50 percent clip at which he shot from behind the arc against the Celtics. While James said Sunday that he doesn’t prefer to play at home, Irving’s numbers say otherwise, and he could bounce back when the Cavs return to Cleveland.

Irving shot 49.9 percent from the floor at Quicken Loans Arena in the regular season, averaging 6.6 assists and 2.1 turnovers per game. On the road, those numbers went down to 44.8 percent, 5.0 assists and 2.9 turnovers. The trend has continued in the playoffs, where Irving has his three highest-scoring games at home, despite playing three more road games.

Without Irving playing at his best, James is essentially back in 2014 when his Miami Heat lost the NBA Finals to the Spurs in five games. James averaged 28.2 points on 57.1 percent shooting, but the Heat lost four times by at least 15 points because Miami’s second superstar was neutralized. Dwyane Wade put up just 15.2 points per game in that series, and it might’ve been the impetus for James signing with Cleveland that summer.

Cleveland needs to get better performances from everyone not named LeBron James in Game 3. Tristan Thompson has to start grabbing rebounds, Kevin Love needs to defend and J.R. Smith has to start making shots.

But if Irving doesn’t play like a superstar, the Cavs have no chance.