Be Tough or Go Home Without Kevin Love

In January, Kevin Love broke his hand. In May, Kevin Love hurt his brain. Whereas the January injury was just a temporary glitch, the Kevin Love concussion has a far greater impact as this Cleveland team is trying to do something special without Kyrie Irving.

LeBron James needs a second scorer and so far it’s been hit and miss.  All of it feels like a tired song for Kevin Love, repeated so often you know the lyrics before the music cues up.  For Kevin Love, nothing has changed. In college (UCLA) he was openly mocked in visiting arenas. Leading up to the draft, his talent was identifiable but he was white, overweight and not explosive so the questions kept coming. He was drafted by Memphis and traded to Minnesota for O.J. Mayo who is no longer in the league. He was lowballed on a max extension. Although LeBron begged Love to come to Cleveland, he has been, in many instances, forgotten and relegated to the third wheel in the absence of Kyrie Irving.

There is a difference between being very good and being great. It is the difference between champions and their victims, between champagne and tears.

Two years ago, on his podcast, Brian Windhorst said this about Kevin Love:

“Kevin will do things like not look you in the eye and say Russell Westbrook is the MVP, or say it starts with our leader instead of coming into a meeting or coming into a huddle and say ‘I am open, I can take this guy. Give me the ball here’.”

Love missing in the Cavs most important game of the year fits the Love biography. He has never been appreciated and, like Chris Paul, something always happens. He missed the playoffs a couple of years ago because of Kelly Olynyk and Boston. It is always the hard way for Kevin Love.

This season, he still was a third wheel being forced to act like the second best player. Statistically, he had a good year- 17 points, 9 rebounds- but in the absence of Kyrie Irving he only took 12 shots per game. He attempted fewer shots without Kyrie than with him. Nevertheless, he was rewarded with an All-Star bid in his hometown of L.A..

He took the high road when everyone was treating him like he had the Zika Virus.  He had the last laugh in January when he broke his hand and couldn’t play. The Cavs sorely missed him.

But in a game 7, Kevin Love’s absence is a hole that can’t be sewn shut even though the Cavs are used to Love being injured. The problem is the Cavs don’t have anyone who can space the floor, rebound, make big perimeter shots and play with aggression. Though he gets treated like it’s not true, Kevin Love is talented.

How talented? He scores from the perimeter. 36% of his playoff shots are Kevin Love threes. He can get the ball on the block, spin, turn and score. He can cut to the rim and finish 55% of his shots in traffic. That is what the Cavs are going to miss tonight. Who is going to fill in with the three ball?  Jeff Green? No show J.R. Smith? Young Jordan Clarkson?

The Cavs have taken 171 threes in the ECF.  Love has taken 26 of them, one less than Kyle Korver. He’s only making 26% of his threes but analytics preaches that it matters how many threes you take more than how many you make (and miss).

What the Cavs are also going to miss is his defense. Since Tristan Thompson returned to the starting lineup, Love returned to his regular power forward position and has had the best defensive numbers other than Thompson. Larry Nance Jr. is an expert defender but he is not a scorer. Tonight, there is the Kevin Love hole.

Before he broke his hand in January, there was chatter about a Kevin Love trade, either before the deadline or perhaps on draft night. Love has next year at $24 million and then an opt-out. He’s an offensive player and no shame about that. He’s a talented specialist. But how good is he really compared to his Minneosta days?

Pretty good, still consistent at rebounding and draining shots.

The Past Is Never Past Points 3-Point % Rebounds Rebound % PER
2012-13, Minnesota 18.3 21.7% 14.0 23.3% 17.9
2013-14 Minnesota 26.1 37.6% 12.5 18.7% 26.9
 2016-17, Cleveland 19.0 37.3% 11.1 19.5% 21.1
2017-18, Cleveland 17.6 41.5% 9.3 18.6% 22.4

Remember earlier in the season when after that war of the worlds team meeting Kevin Love was the villain? Fast forward a few months and  Kevin Love may emerge as the invisible man the Cavs wish was visible, as he watches game 7 with a hurt brain. Kevin Love in a suit has severe consequences for a team trying to keep in tact the incredible streak of LeBron James NBA Finals run.

Reality check. The Cavs are going to see how much they miss Kevin Love, how absolutely necessary he is to their offense, and how his experience and talent was made for such a time as this. Game 7. On the road. Be tough or go home.