The status of this year’s NBA Playoffs, LeBron James‘ (Cleveland) legacy, and Kevin Love‘s looming free agency rests on the
shoulders shoulder* of Love. At this moment, that left shoulder can bear no weight, and it might not be basketball-ready for an entire month. The video below shows the play everyone was talking about over the weekend, a play in which Love and Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk were both jockeying for position on a loose ball. The tussle between the two players resulted in a dislocated shoulder for Kevin Love that will cause the Cavs’ star power forward to miss the entire second round of this year’s Playoffs, the team announced yesterday. Cavs GM David Griffin said this morning Love may miss the rest of the Playoffs with the injury but a return has not been ruled out.
Olynyk may have added a little extra force with the way he unconventionally used Love’s shoulder to gain leverage in boxing him out. The play was describe as “bush-league” by Love, but Olynyk has never a good rebounder for his size, and doesn’t have any past of mal-intent towards opposing players. Love certainly has the right to be upset, but that doesn’t mean the move was planned by Olynyk. The fallout was evident frustration from Love’s teammates throughout the rest of the game, and one of the plays made by JR Smith on Jae Crowder earned him a two game suspension for the next series. (Side note: Olynyk has been suspended one game by the NBA for his play on Love. He’ll serve the suspension next season).
The average number of days missed by a player with a dislocation of his shoulder in the NBA is 27 days. While the severity of the injury, including whether or not there is ligament and tendon damage is still unknown for Love, Cleveland will have to figure out a way to get to the Conference Finals(and probably through rest of the Playoffs) without the player who was actually their biggest difference maker in their first round sweep of Boston. Cleveland’s two best players in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving thrived in the series but it was Love who had the best +/- of any of them in the games against Boston, at a mark of +36. Cleveland’s FG% with Love on the floor was a strong 49%, and just 37% with him on the bench. Cleveland’s 3-pt FG% was a very impressive 40% with Love in the game, and a abysmal 22% from deep without him. Love’s ability to space the defense and open up the paint allows by drawing out the opponent’s power forward allows players like James and Irving to penetrate and get their offense going, as well as set up shots for their teammates with kick-outs.
Cleveland’s continued quest for a title with Love in the fold has become increasingly intriguing amidst the ongoing speculation that Love is unhappy with the situation he’s in with his current team. Love will become a free agent this summer and his per-game averages are as low as they’ve been since his second year in the league with Minnesota in 2009-10. Most attribute these dips in production to his confusion on how to be effective with two other stars in James and Irving, who need the ball a lot to be successful. Some turn to head coach David Blatt as the scape-goat for Love’s struggles and unhappiness. But Cleveland has been almost untouchable since the All-Star break, and was playing their basketball(with Love also thriving) vs. Boston. Was the series with Boston an indication to Love of how effective he can really be in aiding to the team’s success? That remains to be seen as Cleveland will almost certainly attempt to re-sign Love this summer. One factor that Love should definitely take into account was his Cleveland teammates’ defense of him after he was injured this weekend.
Are the Cavs still the favorite? That also remains to be seen. Most experts have believed all season that the Chicago Bulls have the best chances of de-throning King James off of the Eastern Conference mountain. The Bulls will probably be Cleveland’s next opponent, racing out to a 3-0 lead on Milwaukee in their first round match-up. Recently though, the Bulls have played un-inspired basketball as the Bucks(playing much better thanks to adjustments by first year coach Jason Kidd) have rattled off two-straight wins, and while no team in NBA Playoffs history has ever come back down 3-0 to win a series, the Bucks aren’t making it easy on the Bulls. It’s very telling that this veteran-laden team led by Playoffs battle-tested forwards Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah haven’t been able to close this series out two games in a row. It’s almost alarming. Chicago is not playing their best basketball over the last week, but rest assured, they’ll give the Cavs their best shot in the Conference Semi’s, and Cleveland will be forced to counter without possibly the best stretch-four power forward in the NBA.