The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to be one of the teams to watch in the NBA this season. Fresh off an opening night victory over the visiting Boston Celtics, it appears they should be near the top of the Eastern Conference again. There is still much to be discussed about the relationship between ex-teammates LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, and for good reason in regard to how Irving left Cleveland. Nonetheless, Irving’s absence opened up more of a crunch time scoring load for Kevin Love, and last night was a good sign for Love’s expectations going forward.
It wasn’t as if Love had a career night, but he was key when it mattered most. Initially, it took some time for Love to get into a rhythm, considering early trouble caused him to be on the bench more than the Cavs wanted. According to ESPN, Cleveland’s center only played 28 minutes, which was a bit of a wrench in Cleveland’s game plan at times.
With the Celtics being a team that struggled mightily as one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA last season, Love figured to play a key role in wiping the glass. Even with some scaled back minutes, he did rebound really well on both ends of the floor, as he’s always done in his career. He ended the day with 11 rebounds, and those were huge with Cleveland ultimately pulling out a narrow victory.
With his 15 points to go with those boards, Love extended his NBA record-streak of double-doubles to 53 in a row, according to the RotoWire Staff. Efficient rebounding and great outlet passing aside, it was Love’s ability to get buckets in the closing minutes that sealed the win for the Cavs over a pesky Boston team fighting their way back despite losing Gordon Hayward to a nasty leg injury in the opening minutes.
With one of last season’s top fourth-quarter scorers in Isaiah Thomas potentially sidelined until January, Love will need to be featured in the closing stretches to assist LeBron James. Yesterday, Love answered the bell at the free throw line after a crucial offensive rebound inside of two minutes to draw the Cavs to within one of Boston. Nearly a minute later, he put his team in the driver’s seat to a win by burying a corner three-pointer assisted from James. That kind of play is something Love should see more and more of going forward, because the Cavs lost their previous closer in Kyrie Irving.
The fact of the matter is that even though James is still the best player in the NBA, he often chooses to defer in the closing stretches. Trusting teammates has worked before for the King, and this was yet another instance when he played an outstanding all-around game but counted on a buddy to finish the job at the end.
Love is more than capable of hitting clutch shots, and especially with his inherent mismatch playing against mostly interior defensive personnel at a small-ball center. Look for the Cavs to exploit defenses in the closing minutes with Love being featured not only in the corner-three area but in the mid-post to take advantage of free-throw opportunities for himself and passing to teammates like Jae Crowder as off-ball cutters. He was the undisputed go-to guy with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and there’s no reason Love can’t be in crucial moments on this new-look Cavaliers squad for head coach Tyronn Lue.
[Featured Image by Jason Miller/Getty Images]