After dislocating his shoulder against Boston in Game 4 of Cleveland's sweep, power forward Kevin Love is expected to miss the remainder of the NBA playoffs, or at least a substantial part of it. It would seem that Cleveland sports fans -- even the least self-deprecating of them -- are accepting of their fate.
Much has been made about Love's struggles this year, and rightfully so. His 43 percent shooting from the floor is the lowest clip of his seven-year career. Even still, Love remains a terrific option because of his perimeter shooting and deft passing ability. The Cavs posted a net rating of plus-6.6 with Love on the court and minus-1.5 without him. He affects everything Cleveland wants to do from an offensive standpoint. To put it mildly, losing him is a monumental blow for a franchise attempting to capture its first title.
Love, 26, is a natural floor spacer. He excels in pick-and-pop situations and as a spot-up shooter for drivers LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. In fact, Love's 467 catch-and-shoot points during the regular season ranked eighth most in the league, according to The Washington Post. He will now be replaced by Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov, both capable finishers around the hoop, but neither of whom can spread the floor. In effect, this clogs the painted area -- and not just for drivers, but also when head coach David Blatt wants to play through the post.
"We won a close-out game in Boston basically without two of our starters," Blatt said, also referring to J.R. Smith, who was suspended. "That’s what we’re going to see come the beginning of the next series, whoever it may be. We’re ready to face that challenge and hungry to do so."
Blatt deserves credit for coaching up one of the most lethal offensive attacks in the league. But the challenge, as he refers to it, becomes immense without the threat of Love on the floor. In fact, when Love was on the bench this season, Cleveland had a lower assist percentage, rebound percentage, effective field goal percentage, offensive rating and assist-to-turnover ratio, per The Washington Post.
Perhaps teammate J.R. Smith summed it up best. "Mentally, Love is just in another stratosphere when it comes to understanding basketball," Smith said during the Boston series. "He does all of the little things a team needs to win, and that sort of stuff trickles down to each and every one of us, including me. Guys like him make you want to play harder. They help you keep your focus and intensity, because if he’s doing it night in and night out with smarts, heart and determination, well … what’s your excuse?"
To be sure, it's not as if Blatt is left grasping for straws. Both James and Irving are playing their best basketball of the season, and after a subpar season of defense (12th in defensive rating), the Cavs turned it on against the offensively challenged Celtics, holding them to a measly 42 percent from the floor amid the four-game sweep. Surely, we will see herculean efforts from the All-Star duo moving forward.
And yet, losing Love is a colossal blow to an offense built on floor spacing. Cleveland’s offensive rating plummeted from 112.7 to 107.9 when Love left the court during the regular season. He's a key reason why the team leads the East in attempts from 3, according to ESPN The Magazine, and why Blatt has been able to construct such efficient half-court offense.