After helping the Cleveland Cavaliers win their first championship last June, forward Kevin Love had his best regular season and was the legitimate third wheel in the Big Three that he was destined to be since joining the wine and gold in the summer of 2014. It seemed as though winning his first ring sort of took some of the stress off his shoulders and allowed him to play with little to no pressure, and simply just be himself.
While finishing off his best regular season as a Cav, Love carried that momentum into the first round of the postseason. He averaged similar numbers as he did throughout the regular season while helping Cleveland sweep the Pacers in four games. Then, the Raptors series happened. Although the Cavs swept Toronto in four games, Love wasn’t himself.
Let’s take a look at how he fared in the regular season compared to the series against Indiana and Toronto:
As the playoffs have advanced, Love has not only averaged fewer points per game, but he’s also totaling few rebounds, shots, and three-pointers as well. The obvious answer for the decline seems to be his usage percentage, which has also decreased as the season has continued. Although he’s still the Cavs’ third option on offense, the reason for this could be partially due to the fact that LeBron James and Kyrie Irving have shouldered much of the load. Although Uncle Drew has struggled offensively for the majority of the playoffs, he has a 33.2 usage percentage and James, who is having the best postseasons of his career, has a 32.2 usage percentage. The two are the third- and fourth-highest so far in the playoffs, respectively.
Looking back at the Toronto series, although Love finished with much fewer shots and points than he did in the regular season, the number that was most glaring was the fact that the Cavs had a 20.7 net rating when the big man was on the court, almost triple that of the regular season and first round series against Indiana. Even though he has not been the one dominating offensively, defenses having to keep track of wherever Love is has spaced the floor and allowed James to get to the basket more freely. Being the stretch four that he is, Love’s defender rarely ever left his side, as he mentioned to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.
“Whether it was Patterson, Ibaka, those types of guys in the corner, they weren’t leaving me much. So that allowed us to play downhill, allowed those guys to do their thing.”
Is this partially due to his focus being more on the defensive end of the ball? That argument could be made, especially since the 28-year-old was going against the likes of Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson, and Jonas Valanciunas. Like JR Smith and Iman Shumpert, Love has put more effort on the defensive side of the ball than he has offensively so far in the playoffs.
“For me, I was trying to be as best I could defensively. We looked at a lot of film. I was able to trap [Kyle] Lowry when he played, [DeMar] DeRozan quite a bit.”
Following Thursday’s practice, both head coach Tyronn Lue and Love commented on the big man’s slight decline on the offense as the playoffs have gone on. Being the veteran and professional that he is, No. 0 doesn’t care about numbers, as long as they Cavs continue to win, per The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd.
“We’re 8-0. I don’t mind. If I get five or six shots, if I get 15 shots, it don’t matter to me as long as we win. I’ve been in this position before, we’re having success so I’m happy.”
After averaging 22 points in the first two playoff games, Love has averaged just 11 points in the six games since. Lue blamed himself for the sharpshooter’s lack of touches (and shots), saying that they haven’t featured him enough offensively.
“Some of it’s my fault because we haven’t really featured him a lot because of the matchups we had on other teams. He’s 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.
“Each series is different. Maybe we didn’t feature Kevin enough against Toronto, maybe we showed them too much respect, and that’s on me. But next round, I’ve got to do a better job of really getting Kevin involved and really establishing Kevin.”
Like Irving, Love may not be playing like himself lately, but the Cavs continue to dominate and plow their way through the Eastern Conference. Just imagine when the two average the numbers they did in the postseason, along with the way James has played. When that happens, nothing stands in the way of the wine and gold winning back-to-back championships, not even the Warriors. If Love and Irving play to their potential, that could be the “other level” James has referenced to this point.