Should The Cavs Start Richard Jefferson Over Kevin Love In Game 4?
The NBA Finals are off and rolling and it is just now starting to get interesting. After dropping the first two in the Bay Area (including a 33 point blowout in Game 2), the Cleveland Cavaliers stormed out of the gates in Game 3 to win by 30. The 63 point swing between Games 2 and 3 is the largest in NBA Finals history. Where should the Cavs attribute this success? Well, in Game 2, Kevin Love took an elbow to the head, left the Game, and was eventually ruled out of Game 3. Because of this, Richard Jefferson was given the starting nod for the first home game at the Q and it payed off. This now brings up the question: If Kevin Love is healthy and available for Game 4, should he or Richard Jefferson start?
Although Jefferson did not have a huge game on the stat sheet, tallying nine points and eight rebounds, his impact in Game 3 can not be measured by numbers. By inserting Jefferson into the starting lineup, it allowed LeBron James to move to the power forward position and shut down Draymond Green. This strategy was successful, Green only scored six points on 25% shooting, according to NBA.com/Stats. This was after Green exploded for 28 points and knocked down five three-pointers in Game 2. Jefferson made the Cavs quicker on defense, allowed them to run more in transition, and is an overall better matchup for the Cavs against Golden State. The Cavs were able to do something that not many teams have been able to accomplish this season. They beat the Golden State Warriors and handled them with ease. When something works this well in the NBA Finals, you have to stick with it. That is why the Cavs need to start Jefferson in Game 4, regardless of Love’s status.
If the Cavs do elect to start RJ over Love, how Kevin reacts to it will show his true colors. It will never be easy for a star player to accept a back seat to a role player, but it is nothing personal, just a better matchup. Love can either be upset and show that by performing below his potential and having bad body language. Or, Love can be a team player, accept his role in this series, and understand it is what is best for the team and their title chances.
The argument can be made that coming off the bench for the remainder of this series would benefit Love. By playing as a reserve, he would avoid the rumbling of the crowd if he misses his shots early, which could have a serious impact on a player’s confidence. It would also allow him to play with the reserves and get more touches where he is comfortable. When the bench comes in, it is not smart to try and play fast and keep up with Golden State’s pace. It would make a lot more sense to bring a guy like Love in to slow the game down and get him post touches. Love would be the perfect guy to come in and give the Cavs the bench spark they have lacked throughout this series. Just because you come off the bench does not mean you will be playing a lot less minutes. Coach Lue could elect to put Love in earlier for Thompson so that he still does not have to try and keep up with Draymond Green or Harrison Barnes. Love could have a very positive impact on this series and the Cavs’ comeback efforts if he is able to accept a new role.
After watching Game 3, it is obvious that the better matchup for the Cavs against Golden State is by playing Jefferson. It gives them much more flexibility defensively on pick and rolls and switches. Even if Lue decides to start Love in Game 4, we should expect to see a lot of time from Wednesday’s starting lineup. The smart and correct move is to roll with the same lineup from Game 3, and how Kevin Love reacts to the change will have a huge impact on the rest of the Finals.