There was just something about how Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love looked in shoot-around ahead of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden that made small forward LeBron James believe a good performance was coming.
And that feeling turned into reality as Love scored 32 points on nine-of-16 shooting, including a six-for-nine showing from three-point range in the 117-104 victory. Additionally, Love corralled 12 rebounds, stole one pass and blocked a shot.
“I knew what type of game he was going to have,” James said. “I mean, he came through for us. We want the mentality of Kevin from Minnesota, but his usage rate doesn't have to be as high as Minnesota. Obviously, we all know that he was a featured guy pretty much every possession going down the floor, and here, that's changed a little bit because we have other guys.”
Love’s 32 points were a single-game playoff high for the nine-year man out of UCLA.
“His mentality needs to stay the same as Minnesota, and I think as he continues to get even more comfortable and comfortable,” James said. “(It) was one of those instances where every time he got the ball, it was a small guarding him or somebody was in the post, 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.”
Although the Celtics responded with five straight points out of a timeout in the second quarter, the Cavaliers went back to work and put together a 12-0 run over the next three-plus minutes.
Reserve guard Iman Shumpert got the run started when he caught a pass from James and buried a three-pointer from 26 feet away. Then, Love scored five of the Cavaliers’ next seven points when he converted a pair of free throws and followed up with a three-pointer from the left wing.
“We've been talking, and he's been ready, and (that) was a huge performance from him,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “We needed that. And then, he was also really good defensively on the boards, making shots, posting up. We needed that big performance from Kevin.
“Kyrie and LeBron went out, and I told him I was going to feature him, and he did a good job of carrying the load. We did a good job of getting the basketball to him, and he came up big for us.”
Love got the Cavaliers rolling in the second half when he drew a shooting foul while attempting a three-pointer and knocked down all three of the ensuing free throws. Love followed that up with a three-pointer from 25 feet away on the Cavaliers’ second possession of the half.
Later in the quarter, Love buried three more three-pointers.
“He was just being aggressive,” Lue said. “Just knowing him over the last three years, when it starts inside out, that's when his three ball gets to working. LeBron has been playing so well that we really haven't had a chance to really feature Kevin.”