Cleveland Cavaliers’ strategy: Play All-Star Kevin Love out of position
Kevin Love prefers playing power forward over center, and he’s been vocal about it.
Asked if he is more comfortable playing the four (power forward) instead of the five (center), Love replied, “It’s been my whole career I’ve played at the four. I would say absolutely.”
But Cleveland Cavaliers coach Ty Lue needs Love to play center in his team’s Eastern Conference semifinal series against Toronto for multiple reasons, and he isn’t budging.
“It spreads the floor out for us,” Lue said. “(Toronto center Jonas) Valanciunas is going to go to help and try to block shots. Kevin is going to have open shots all night, so, whatever is best for the team is what we’ll do.”
No matter how much Love wants to play power forward, Lue is adamant about him playing center. Even if Love is bellyaching. To be fair, Love is undersized against most centers, especially Valanciunas. Love often takes a beating, leaving him tired.
It didn’t help that Love had a poor offensive series against Indiana in the first round, averaging just 11.4 points on 33.3% shooting, and in Game 1 against Toronto on Tuesday, Love had just seven points on 3-for-13 shooting.
But Love’s fortunes changed in Game 2 on Thursday night. He scored 31 points on 11-for-21 shooting, and the Cavs made it a point to get him involved early in the 128-110 victory, which gave them a 2-0 series lead.
Love brought out his arsenal of low-post moves, scoring 18 points near the rim. He also made two three-pointers and all seven of his free throws in his best game of these playoffs.
“We had watched film (Wednesday) that just showed that when we were running certain actions, they switch the guards on to him,” Lue said after Game 2. ” … When he’s playing fast with fives guarding him, this is how he can play.”
Love often had mismatches against smaller defenders in Game 2 and went to work. Toronto’s defensive switches allowed Love to take advantage of DeMar DeRozan and C.J. Miles, and Love’s ability to hit threes took Valanciunas away from the rim.
“Kev had that look in his face today like he wanted the ball more and more and more,” LeBron James said. “Then when they started going small in the third quarter, they put a smaller guy on him, I called sets just to get it right to him and let him work.”
Beyond the reasons Lue mentioned, the Cavs also like Love at the five because Tristan Thompson coming off the bench helps Cleveland limit Toronto’s second unit. That strategy has worked in the series.
“It’s been good for (Love),” Lue said after Game 2. “He made the All-Star team playing the five. I think we can use him in different situations now like running wide pindowns for him like he’s a guard and curling him out in the corner with bigs guarding him. And then, when he’s running the floor, bigs are taught to run back to the paint. So if he’s spreading the floor in transition and ‘Bron’s coming full speed, he’s going to get open threes in transition like he got a couple tonight.
“When the fives are guarding him, he’s got to just do a better job of playing faster, which he did tonight and making sharp cuts, which he did. He really set a tone for us early in that first quarter”
Love has been stubborn about it, but he has found common ground with Lue.
“Between us, there’s obviously a mutual respect,” Love said after his Game 2 outburst. “He’s helped me so much as I sit here with Cleveland in the past four years. But sometimes you’re going to butt heads, and my entire life and my entire pro career — this is going to be my 10th year — I’ve spent the majority of my time at the power forward position.
“But he sees something out there in me at the five spot, and I guess, especially on the offensive end when I have my game going, he wants me to take advantage of that. I’ve always tried to do the best I can in, I guess, the area of willingness to sacrifice for this team, and sometimes I’m going to have a little bit of pushback, and I think that’s, in some cases, healthy. But I respect Ty. I love Ty and I think it’s good for us. I’ll do whatever it takes for this team.”