Kevin Love has taken a lot of flack this season: from the media, from Minnesota Timberwolves fans, from his very own teammates. In Love’s first season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, his first ever with championship aspirations, he has learned the hard way what kind of absurd speculation and expectation comes with those high stakes.
Through it all, Love has remained level-headed, never complaining or criticizing on or off the court. He has seemingly worked hard to “fit in” as a member of Cleveland’s Big Three, and in Game 3 of the Cavaliers’ first-round playoffs series against the Boston Celtics, he showed why this team has been so patient in getting him involved this season. The big man has already been more active this series than he was game-to-game during the regular season, but Wednesday night was one of his best performances of the season, with 23 points including 6 3-pointers, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists.
If this performance is going to be the regular for K-Love during these playoffs, other teams need to look out. He looked every bit the perfect modern stretch-four that Cleveland imagined they were getting when they traded A-Wiggins for him. Love wasn’t just letting it fly and making it rain, he was taking guys off the dribble, getting to the rim, battling for position, and finding other ways to score aside from spot-up 3’s or spoon-fed post-ups on the block.
In other words, he was a dynamic scoring threat next to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, playing with the type of efficiency and confidence necessary for a third scoring option on a contender. Most importantly, he delivered in the clutch:
Love hits a pair of dagger 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. – The Cavaliers’ offense wasn’t pretty during the fourth quarter, as Irving and especially James took to holding the ball in stagnant isos before hoisting their own shot. But on the occasions that each deferred, they did so to Love, and he made Boston pay, hitting a pair of threes in the last 2:13 to keep the game out of reach.
The power forward hasn’t been crazy about working primarily as a spot-up shooter this year, and his frustrations aren’t misguided––Cleveland’s offense is better when Love plays a more dynamic role. But his ability to shoot the ball and space the floor, a la Chris Bosh with LeBron’s Miami Heat teams, will be crucial as defenses crank it up during the playoffs.
Celtics trying to get over the hump. – The Celtics, which was thought to be among Love’s preferred destinations during his trade-lobbying days, tried valiantly once again to down the Cavaliers, staying to a script similar to the first two games of the series. Boston took a late first-half lead only to fall into a halftime deficit, and despite making a number of mini-runs in the second half, ultimately failed to take a lead late in the game.
The frustrations of a familiar, failing trajectory can take their toll on a young team, and even though the Celtics once again competed to the final whistle, they now find themselves just one game from elimination. They still have a chance to make things a gentleman’s sweep and win Game 5 at home, but even if they don’t, they certainly understand just how difficult it is to get any kind of playoff win after their close misses from these first three games.