I know, many of you probably thought this was going to be a picture of Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love fully naked from his ESPN The Magainze shoot earlier this year. But unfortunately for those looking forward to that, this story is purely about basketball and not Love's looks.
Looking at the stat sheet following the Cavs Game 5 win over the Golden State Warriors in Oracle Arena Monday night, many would think that Love struggled mightily, with just two points, three rebounds, one assist, and one block while knocking down just 1-of-5 shots from the field and missing all three of his shots from long distance. But, looking closely, the wine and gold outscored the Warriors by 18 when the sharpshooting power forward was on the court. That has to mean something, right? His plus-minus of plus-18 was second on the team, only trailing Kyrie Irving's plus-20.
Even though he didn't fill up the stat sheet, head coach Tyronn Lue gave kudos to Love's performance in Game 5 during Wednesday's open media session.
"Kevin was great," said Lue. "I mean, defensively he did a lot of good things. Offensively we have two guys that did something that hasn't been done in NBA history: Two guys score 40 points in a single game. So there wasn't a lot of room or a lot of shots for a lot of other guys because they had a special moment. So it's hard enough to win a game in a regular season and then to win a game in the NBA Finals and guys are focused on Kevin not scoring the basketball. He did a lot of great things. Our rebounding was down because he's on the perimeter. He's guarding perimeter guys. They play five smalls, so he's not going to be able to rebound the ball as well as if he's playing inside against a bigger guy."
http://www.scout.com/cleveland-sports/story/1679074-the-curious-case-of-kevin-love-wwwShould Love have been more assertive? Absolutely. The third member of the Big Three should have taken more than five shots, it's that simple. But with LeBron James and Irving shooting as well as they did, the 27-year-old wasn't counted on to do as much in the elimination game in order to keep the Cavaliers' championship hopes alive. Even though he struggled finding the bottom of the net with his shot, Love's presence on the court opened up the paint for both James and Irving, along with the rest of the Cavaliers. Not only did the Warriors have to stay close to the sharpshooter on the perimeter even though he only had five shots, they also couldn't have one of their big men down low protecting the rim because they had to worry about the power forward being able to knock down the outside shot. In fact, the Cavaliers made 13 more field goals than Golden State while attempting the same amount with Love on the court in Game 5.
With Warriors' do-it-all Swiss army knife Draymond Green suspended for Game 5, Love had one of his best defensive games in the Finals so far. Whether it was due to the fact that he didn't have to keep up with Green or just that he played better knowing that it was a must-win, No. 0 defended the pick-and-roll much better than previously in the series and contested shots near the hoop, along with coming out on the Splash Brothers as well. But, with Green returning in Game 6 back in Cleveland, Love's defense will once again be put to the test against the smaller and quicker Green (and whoever else) the rest of the series.
In the series against Golden State thus far, the 6-foot-10, 251-pound forward has struggled on the offensive side of the ball, at least just glancing at the stat sheet. He's averaging just 8.8 points, six rebounds, 0.75 assists, and 0.5 steals, and 0.5 blocks in 29 minutes per game while shooting 13-of-35 from the field (37 percent) and 4-of-14 from beyond the arc (29 percent). So while he has spread the defense out a bit with his ability to shoot from the outside, he has struggled mightily finding his own shot. In fact, Love has struggled all season against the Warriors when it comes to the box score. In the Cavaliers' two regular season losses against Golden State, the sharpshooter averaged just 6.5 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, and 1.5 blocks in 30 minutes per game while shooting 6-of-21 from the field (29 percent) and 5-of-13 from three-point land (38 percent). In the two regular season games, the wine and gold were outscored by 16 points with Love on the court.
"We definitely need him. He's too big of a piece to our puzzle." — LeBron James
Although Love is spreading the defense out on offense, James knows that the team needs the sharpshooter to score and play better offensively in order for the Cavaliers to make history and come back from a 3-1 series deficit.
"We definitely need him," said James. "He's too big of a piece to our puzzle. We definitely need Kev to play better. We want him to play better, but we don't want to add no more stress on him or added pressure. We just want him to go out and play, just let it hang out."
The forward took a backseat to James' and Irving's greatness in Game 5, but he will most likely have to fill up the stat sheet more in Game 6 (and possibly Game 7) due to the fact that it will be hard for James and Irving to copy their history-making performances in Game 5. But either way, Love did what he had to do in Cleveland's win in order to bring the series back to Quicken Loans Arena Thursday night.
"It just felt like it was one of those nights where you just kind of roll out the ball for them and get out of the way," said Love. "They were spectacular all night, both scoring 41. Kyrie shooting above 70 percent, LeBron really filled up the stat sheet in every way. So it was great to be a part of, and you had to find different ways to affect the game that might not show up on the stat sheet."
Heading into Game 6, Love will have plenty of different looks on defense. With Warriors big-man Andrew Bogut to miss the rest of the series due to a knee injury, the forward will most likely have to go up against an opponent who is smaller and quicker than him both on offense and defense. Love will have to use this to his advantage offensively and be able to stay in front of his opponent defensively in order to succeed. But either way, James just wants the third member of the Big Three to be aggressive on both ends of the floor.
"Just need him to be aggressive," said James of Love. "You know, from the defensive side of the floor and the offensive side of the floor, go out and make an impact on the game, no matter if he's not scoring, no matter if at times he feels like he's not getting touches. We all just need to continue to be aggressive. He needs to be aggressive to help us try to send this game back to Golden State. I think he's looking forward to the challenge. I think he's looking forward to the moment."
Whether it's Green at center or backup big-men Festus Ezeli or Anderson Varejao, Love is ready to produce on both sides of the ball and not just be a decoy like he was in Game 5. The Cavaliers will need Love to have his A-game in Game 6 in order to force a deciding Game 7 back in California Sunday night. The power forward seems ready for the challenge, no matter who his opposition is.
"Every game is different," said Love. "I think every game in the entire playoffs has been different. But they're a team that will probably play a lot of small ball. You'll see Draymond at the five, we're thinking, and (Festus) Ezeli will come in and they'll have a lot of different players sub in and out of their lineup. But we know that the crowd is going to be on our side and we're going to have to play really, really good basketball and play better than we did last game."
Story includes reporting from WFNY's Scott Sargent