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Kyrie Irving: 'Couldn't even sit down'

BARCELONA, Spain -- Kyrie Irving is willing to share now what he didn't dare admit Saturday afternoon.

The confession: Team USA's starting point guard was still in serious pain trying to play less than 48 hours removed from that painful fall he absorbed inside the final 90 seconds of pool play at this 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

"I couldn't even sit down on the bench," Irving said Monday.

So there's your explanation for why Irving was spotted so often standing off to the side, with his left hand perched on top of that still-sore hip, whenever he left the floor for bursts of rest during the Americans' 86-63 cruise past Mexico.

That post-fall claim, via Twitter, about how he was "all good everybody" to calm any fears back in Cleveland? A bit of a fib.

Yet Irving also insists that there had been "no discussion" before Saturday's early tip against Mexico with Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski about the prospect of taking a game off that could have easily been won without him.

Not even in the wake of that unmistakably loud and painful thud Irving absorbed last Thursday after losing his footing on a drive as he rose to the bucket with 70-odd seconds to go in a comfortable victory over Ukraine in Team USA's Group C finale.

"I really wanted to be out there," Irving said.

Hushing the haters who are always quick to reference his considerable injury history, both at Duke and in Cleveland, only accounts for a fraction of that motivation.

The more significant force driving him: Irving is still waiting for his first taste of the NBA playoffs -- his first taste, frankly, of an NBA game that really means something -- so ‎he sees this tournament he's in now as quite a big deal.

"This is by far the biggest stage I've played on in my career," Irving said.

And ...

"Nothing is guaranteed," Irving acknowledged. "If we lose, there's a lot at stake‎."

His playoff wait is obviously going to end soon. It'll end seven months from now, to be precise, thanks to the return of LeBron James to his home-state Cavaliers.

Yet the fact he's still waiting to finally draw in some postseason air, after those three chaotic and injury-interrupted seasons with the Cavs so far, feeds into one of the most intriguing storylines surrounding the Team USA versus Spain championship game ‎universally anticipated Sunday in the world of international basketball.

Neither Irving nor Team USA star center Anthony Davis has played in a playoff game yet. Starting power forward Kenneth Faried has only scant postseason experience, while reserve big man DeMarcus ‎Cousins is another prime member of Mike Krzyzewski's Team USA rotation yet to play in a single game as a pro that will generate the sort of attention this looming duel with Spain will.

Six of the 12 players on the Team USA roster, don't forget, have never even played in an NBA All-Star Game.

It all makes you wonder, if things get tight in crunch time against the uber-experiened Spaniards, who will step up to lead the way for the Americans.

"There's no one main leader on this team," Irving counters, convinced that the leadership-by-committee approach is working.

"I just try to bring the confidence that I have in myself to this team that we're the best in the world," he adds. "We have respect for all the other countries and what they do, but ... we have the best players in the world playing for our team [and now] we just have to go out and prove it every night.

Forget the scary fall. Irving has been describing this summer stint with the national team as "very emotional" even before the threat of an injury surfaced.

"It's my first time playing on a national team on a national stage in another country," Irving said last week. "This is by far in my career the best experience of my life. To play for my [college] coach again -- to get a chance to play for a gold medal with a guy I was with for a short time [at Duke] -- this is our chance to rekindle the flame and sort of say we're going after something bigger than ourselves."

When it comes to Tuesday night's quarterfinals, meanwhile, Irving is convinced he'll look more like himself against Goran Dragic-led Slovenia after two days of mostly rest since the Mexico romp.

"Best two days of the trip so far," Irving joked.

Probably his first joke of the trip, too.

On the day before Team USA arrived in Spain, Irving told ESPN.com: "The target on our backs is something I'm looking forward to. And I know these [other] guys feel the same way.

"We're going to do everything possible to protect what Coach K has built and guys before us have built."