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To say the first four games of the opening-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers have not been pretty for Kevin Love would be an understatement.
The five-time All-Star is playing with a partially torn ligament in his left thumb (an injury suffered while breaking up a pass in Game 2), is not shooting the basketball well from inside nor outside, picked up two fouls in the first 90 seconds of Game 4 and has been pushed all over the place by Indiana’s Thaddeus Young.
Still, Love and his Cleveland Cavalier teammates find themselves even in the best-of-seven series, 2-2, headed into Game 5 tonight at Quicken Loans Arena and Love is not about to make excuses.
For example, he was asked if his damaged left thumb is the reason why he’s averaging only 12.0 points and shooting 36.2 percent from the floor. The thumb is on the same hand he broke during a loss at Detroit in the regular season, an injury that forced him to miss six weeks.
“Not so much,” Love said after Tuesday’s practice. “I’ve been able to get up a lot of shots. I think initially it was painful in the few days that followed, but now it’s kind of subsided, and just getting the feeling back in my left thumb.”
The two quick fouls were much more of a factor in his Game 4 struggles, Love said. He shot just 2-of-10, including 0-for-3 from beyond the 3-point line, had 11 boards, one assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
“It definitely affected me,” Love said of the fouls. “I’ve been in that situation before and just have to get rolling after that. So I had to find ways to make my impact defensively and just do little things that don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet. So I just try to get on the glass.
“In the second half, my shot wasn’t falling, but I just tried to, like I said, be effective.”
Part of that is on the defensive end. With the Pacers often targeting him, putting him in pick-and-roll situations with All-Star Victor Oladipo handling the basketball, Love is tasked by coach Tyronn Lue to either blitz (double-team) Oladipo or to hard hedge and then recover.
Regardless of the scheme, it’s difficult for the 6-foot-10, 251-pound Love.
“Yeah, it’s not easy. You’ve got to be all over the floor, especially in today’s game,” he said. “You got a lot of teams that move the ball extremely well… a lot of bigs that can shoot it, that space you out, can play inside-out. So they’re one of those teams that has a number of guys that can do different things, as I mentioned.
“So it’s tough with those coverages, but that’s kind of throughout the entire league, now.”
Then, there’s Young, who has basically become Love’s shadow for Indiana. For example, in Love’s 29 minutes in Game 4 on Sunday night, Young was on the floor for every second Love was.
It’s been an effective strategy for Pacers coach Nate McMillan. Love has made just 4-of-21 shots (19.1 percent) while being guarded by Young in the series. When being defended by Young, Love has turned the basketball over eight times, compared to passing for only three assists. On possessions Young has guarded Love in the series, Cleveland has an awful offensive rating of 90.3.
“He’s a good defender,” Love said of Young. “It’s definitely been a physical series so far. But you know, Thad has always been a guy that can guard multiple positions and you gotta give him credit.
“Nate has them doing a great job on the defensive end, so we need to find ways to be effective.”
A big part of that would occur if the Cavaliers were able to hold onto a lead. In each of the last three games in the series, Cleveland builds double-digit leads, only to see Indiana overcome them.
“I think, more than anything, just continue to push our pace,” Love said. “I thought in the second half (of Game 4), we were pretty good defensively. They’re just a team that spreads you out. They can play inside, outside, and they’re a very good team on both sides of the ball.
“So, I think more than anything, what we’ve been preaching is not getting stagnant on offense. Even in the halfcourt, just not keeping it on one side, but continued motion, even it we do post (LeBron James) up to continue that weakside action and try to get open looks.”
If the shots do not begin to fall for Love, he knows he has ways to remain effective while on the floor.
“I think, more than anything, just look to get guys like Kyle (Korver) open, Swish (J.R. Smith) open, set good screens and when the shots don’t go,” he said. “I’m still going to take the shots that are there for me, but just try and not force it, whether I’m getting the foul on the offensive end, or not, just finding different ways to be effective, even when we’re not scoring the ball.”
Lue wants Love to maintain his aggressiveness, even during difficult stretches of the game.
“I think in that second half (of Game 4), he came out a lot more aggressive, you know, posting and sealing in transition,” Lue said. “We got to him early, a few times. I thought a couple times, he got a foul which he didn’t get the call.
“But, I liked his aggressiveness in that second half of just posting up, sealing early in transition before the teams can get back and load up and kind of help and just be sitting in his lap. So he did a good job with that. Now he’s got to do as good of a job of just converting.”
Love remains confident he and his teammates are in good shape in this series as they attempt to defend their three consecutive Eastern Conference championships and get to a fourth-straight NBA Finals.
When a series is tied, 2-2, teams that win Game 5 end up winning the series 83 percent of the time, putting an onus on tonight’s contest at Quicken Loans Arena.
“Tying this series up, coming back home is just something we feel good about,” he said. “We feel good about playing on our home floor. We know Game 1 was a tough one for us, especially starting and kind of gettin getting behind the 8-ball there.
“But, we feel like it’s a best of 3 (series) and we tied the series now. At the end of the day, if it comes to it, we have two games at home. So we like that advantage.”