Kevin Love, who was much maligned during the regular season until he bounced back in the first three games of the playoffs, is now an afterthought.
The Cavaliers will move on in the postseason minus that warm feeling with the loss of Love thanks to that “bush league” play by Celtics center Kelly Olynyk. The Cavs have been poised to win it all throughout the year but will now chart into unfamiliar territory being virtual underdogs in their upcoming matchup or matchups.
Losing Love is a big blow to this team as he was probably the second biggest enabler of the Cavaliers` offense which is predicated on spacing the floor to open up the lanes for Kyrie and LeBron. He was their lone floor spacing big and his passing skills, while not necessarily converting to assists, made sure that the ball moved around.
“I’m hurting right now,” said Irving of Love’s injury. “I’m doing everything to just process it, but i have to move on.”
“It’s just more of a devastation for us as a team. We’ve been building something for so long and internally ,we’ve done a great job of keeping everything in house and taking care of each other. And when one of your brothers goes down, there’s a piece of us that went with him.”
As bad as losing an All Star forward for the rest of the playoffs sounds, there is a whole lot of life after Love. This Cavalier team is a well-coached group, led by the game’s best player and one of the best young point guards who is growing before our eyes. Those three factors give the Cavaliers a big advantage as the game goes to its final minutes.
Next man up. LeBron James has dictated the theme going forward and that is the cue for big men Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov to step up to the challenge. While the Cavs will be missing the floor spacing ability of Love, the lanes won’t be as clogged as many thought it would be with the presence of Mozgov. You read it right. The seven foot Russian possesses a soft touch that’s reliable up to 15-feet away from the basket good enough to create space for a driving James or Kyrie Irving. It hasn’t been featured that much but the Cavaliers have gotten ample time off in between their first and second round affairs for T-Moz to sharpen that facet of his game.
“We have guys who have played that have played major roles on major playoff teams and haven’t played significant roles up to this point, but things are gonna change now. I think our guys are mentally preparing themselves for the next challenge.”
Next man up. Tristan Thompson, the consummate professional that he is, has proven to be able to step up when his name is called. He doesn’t figure to be a starter for Coach David Blatt but he’s bound to get a huge increase in minutes. His rare ability to consistently grab those offensive rebounds was already highlighted in the first round series against Boston and it is expected to gain even further attention with more playing time.
Next man up. The wing duo of JR Smith, who will miss the first two games of the second round due to a suspension, and Iman Shumpert gives the Cavaliers two double edged swords with playoff experience. Smith shoots the ball very well while being able to defend and Shump is a lockdown beast with a reliable stroke. It’s going to be a game of “pick your poison” for opponents when Coach Blatt decides to play around with this combo.
Next man up. The Cavs’ bench have five veterans with valuable championship experience in Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood, Mike Miller, James Jones, and Kendrick Perkins. In the regular season, that combination of “washed up” names on the bench didn’t amount to a trip on the hype train, but in the playoffs, their experience and maturity counts for a huge boost as their collective smarts will account for less turnovers for the good guys.
“He’ll be ready to give us what he needs to,” Blatt said of Shump. “We’ve got other guys who are pretty good shooters too, guys who can space the floor. We’ve got a lot of great professionals who understand this time of year.”
The Cleveland Cavaliers are holding their heads up high with plenty of reasons to be hopeful for as they are still an incredibly dangerous team equipped with sharpshooters, defenders, veterans, and not one, but two elite level players who can take over games at will.
The road becomes more difficult from here on, but life in Cleveland without Love could still have a ring to it.