Kevin Love returned to the floor and was in the starting lineup Thursday night when the Cavaliers took on the Utah Jazz.
He played 19 minutes, scoring 10 points, and probably most importantly, grabbed 9 rebounds.
With his return, now the Cavs can officially start their playoff push, with 14 games remaining in the regular season.
When Kyle Korver returns from his foot injury, Tyronn Lue will have a full roster at his disposal for the first time since really the end of December.
And no doubt, their will be rest for “The Big Three” once the Cavs playoff position is etched in stone. They are currently a game and a half ahead of Boston for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and two games ahead in the loss column, although we don’t think that matters to the team.
The wine and gold went 7-6 in Love’s absence, a far cry from their 34-13 record when the big man from UCLA is on the court.
Their is no question that Love is a lightning rod, mostly from fans, around northeast Ohio. When the Cavaliers lose, he is usually the first player to get the blame.
He’s not tough enough, he missed wide open looks, he can’t defend, etc.
However, two things were noticeably absent while Love was out. First, it was obvious the Cavs need a third scoring option behind LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Too many times, those two had 25+ points, and the next best total by anyone was something like 14.
Love scores 20 points per game, and on those occasions when James and Irving are off the floor, he provides another scorer. So, for the most part, Lue can have two of the trio on the court at all times.
They also missed Love on the glass, where he averages 11 caroms per night. In the 13 games Love was absent following his knee scope, Cleveland was outrebounded in 10 of those contests.
In the ten games before Love was out, the Cavs was only outrebounded twice. Clearly, his presence is very important on the glass, particularly the defensive boards.
As for durability, Love has played in more than 70 games, five times in nine years, including the last three before 2016-17.
His last two injuries were a shoulder separation which knocked him out of the playoff during his first year with Cleveland, and the knee scope this season. It’s not like he’s constantly spraining ankles or has a chronic knee issue.
As for his defense, we know he’s not going to make an NBA All-Defensive team anytime soon. On the other hand, he’s not the open door he’s portrayed to be on that end of the floor either.
His defensive win share is 2.o, which among power forwards is very similar to Serge Ibaka and Derrick Favors, and better than Blake Griffin. Let’s just say he’s not great, but he’s not a sieve either.
So, if you want to replace Love during the off-season, know that you will need to replace his rebounding and scoring, and he averages 20 points and 11 boards per night. The other players who do that? Think DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Good luck getting one of them.
Besides, remember that the Cavaliers are the NBA’s defending champions. You know who was on that team? Yep, Kevin Love.