After missing Game 3 due to a concussion he suffered during Game 2, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love will return to the team's lineup for Game 4 Friday night, after passing the NBA's Concussion Protocol prior to the game. There's just one major difference: For the first time in six years and the first time as a Cavalier, Love will come off the bench, according to Cavs play-by-play announcer Fred McLeod.
While he fully participated in Friday morning's shootaround, Love was not given the chance to pass the protocol until after he arrived at Quicken Loans Arena prior to Game 4. Now, after being cleared, Love will fill a reserve role, while Richard Jefferson remains in the starting lineup, as he did in place of Love in Game 3. In his first start in an NBA Finals game sine 2003, Jefferson poured in nine points, eight rebounds, and two steals in 33 minutes in the Cavaliers drubbing of the Warriors Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, in his first full Finals game, Love totaled 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in Game 1, before missing much of Game 2 due to the concussion. He may be struggling on defense against Golden State, but the power forward brings an aspect to the offense — and rebounding — that is hard to replace. Whether it's his outside shot or being able to play in the post, Love opens the floor up for James and company in the paint, along with being a threat in the paint and on the elbows as well.
While many may argue that the wine and gold played better (and actually beat the Warriors) in Game 3 without Love, the Cavs are at their best when the 27-year-old is at 100 percent. Part of the reason LeBron James and company dominated Wednesday night was due to the fact that they returned to their home court and (finally) played well on both offense and defense, part of which was because the Cavs matched up better with James at power forward. Whether it's the fact that head coach Tyronn Lue is superstitious or just the fact that he doesn't want to mess with a starting lineup that did so well in Game 4, Jefferson will remain a starter even though Love is active.
With Love's return, he will bring plenty of scoring and rebounding to a team looking for their second consecutive win of the series and tying up the best-of-seven series at 2-2 before heading back to Golden State for Game 5 Monday night.
Should Lue leave the starting lineup from Game 3 the same heading into Game 4; the lineup that scored the first nine points of the game and led the Cavaliers to an early 20-point lead in the first quarter and 17-point lead after the first 12 minutes? While that means that Love will have to come off the bench for the first time while donning the wine and gold, he will bring a spark to a Cleveland bench that has struggled through the first three games of the Finals. Either way, Cavs fans have to trust Lue's decision to sit Love and have him play a reserve role in Game 4. Hopefully it will be a decision he won't regret.