Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love shoots from under the basket as Boston Celtics forward Amir Johnson (90) defends during the first quarter of Game 1 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference finals, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
To his credit, Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue took some of the blame, heading into the Eastern Conference Finals.
“Some of it’s my fault because we haven’t really featured him [Kevin Love] a lot because of the matchups we had on other teams,” Lue told reporters last week. “He has been great. His whole mindset is winning and that’s what it’s all about in the playoffs. In this next series, we have some matchups he can definitely take advantage of and it’s on me to make sure we do that.”
In the first eight games of the 2017 Playoffs, Love was averaging just 13.8 points (on 9.9 attempts), 9.1 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. And while Love said he didn’t mind his decreased touches, just as long as the team was winning, Coach Lue made sure to stick to his word. And boy did the eighth-year forward get featured.
In the Cavaliers’ 117-104 game one win over the Boston Celtics, Love exploded for a postseason career-high of 32 points, canning 9-of-16 shots, 6-of-9 from beyond the arc, to go with 12 rebounds.
“He was just being aggressive. Just knowing him over the last three years, when it starts inside out, that’s when his three ball gets to working,” Lue said after the victory. “LeBron has been playing so well that we really haven’t had a chance to really feature Kevin. But we’ve been talking and he’s been ready, and tonight was a huge performance from him. We needed that. And then he was also really good defensively.”
Love said that it was a comfort level, born out of his third season with the Cavaliers, and finding his role on a team that also has playmakers like James and Kyrie Irving. “I know I can impact the game whether it shows up in the stat sheet or not. I think that has allowed me to be comfortable out there on the floor, knowing that my mindset is really there, still being aggressive and making plays, as I mentioned, whether those are showing up or not. But just having all these guys' back and being there for them is huge, and I embrace that.”
For James, it was a concentrated effort to get the best out of his teammate, in a throwback to his days as the star of the Minnesota Timberwolves, albeit with a slight adjustment.
“We want the mentality of Kevin from Minnesota, but his usage rate doesn’t have to be as high as Minnesota,” said James. “Tonight was one of those instances where every time he got the ball, it was a small guarding him, or somebody was in the post [so] he was aggressive. He grabbed every rebound for the most part with him and Tristan in the paint, and he was very aggressive with his shot. He also got to the free throw line 10 times -- well, nine. So definitely that mentality from Minnesota is what we all love.”