CLEVELAND -- Veteran power forward Kevin Love was not a featured part of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ offensive plan during the first two rounds of the 2017 NBA Playoffs, but against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, the opposite proved to be true.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, Love averaged 22.6 points per game, more than 12 points above what he tallied against the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, which the Cavaliers swept through in just four games.
“More than anything, I’m trying to fill in the gaps,” Love said. “If LeBron’s playing the four, he’s almost playing the point-forward, so there were times in the first couple series where I got put at the five where I wanted to duck in, I wanted to be in the paint, but a lot of those times, spacing the floor is so huge for us.
“Me at the five, I almost play a stretch five role a lot of the time. In that way, it definitely changed a lot, and on the defensive end, it’s interchangeable, four and five.”
Playing some of the time at center instead of his natural power forward position, Love not only averaged 22.6 points, but also, shot 48.6 percent from the field (69 of 151) and 53.5 percent from three-point range (38 of 80).
Additionally, Love tallied five double-doubles of points and rebounds, and averaged 2.6 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.4 steals per game against the Celtics.
“I try to emulate what Tristan does, bring that level of physicality, a lot of energy, and then, being locked into the gameplan and making sure that on the defensive end, rebounding is a weapon that I can use to my advantage,” Love said.
Love slid over to center when starter Tristan Thompson was given a break against the Celtics, and having to play in a different position forced the All-Star front-court player to focus on both sides of the floor, which proved beneficial for the Cavaliers.
Love averaged substantially more rebounds (+3.3), assists (+1.1), blocks (+.575) and steals (+1.1) per game against the Celtics over his contributions against the Raptors or the Indiana Pacers.
“Clean up the glass,” Thompson said of his advice to Love. “In the second unit with all those shooters, you’ve got to clean up the glass, own the paint and defend at a high level, and he’s doing that. I think Kev really took the challenge on the defensive end and has really stepped up.
“We know he’s capable of doing it, and he believes it too, so we definitely need that come next week in the second unit, but even when we start and play, Green or whoever they put on him, you’ve got to go down there and be big for us.”
And going forward into the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Thompson feels Love’s contributions will be critical if the Cavaliers hope to repeat as champions.
“I think it just starts on the defensive end,” Thompson said. “If he gets going, getting some stops, rebounding, whenever he gets early rebounds, some trail threes, we know what Kevin can do on offense. We just want him to be big and own the paint.”