Loveless: Cleveland’s Downfall

Let’s get one thing straight from the jump, I am terrible at predicting games. When I say that tonight’s game has the feeling of a season finale, it’s probably a good sign that you should bet the house on Cleveland. I can’t shake this feeling though. It feels like all of the great stories that were going to be told in these Finals have been told and now there is nothing left except the Warriors getting this last win and putting the cherry on top of the single greatest season in NBA History.

It was so much fun watching LeBron and Kyrie turn back the clock and play 48 minutes of pure, unadulterated Hero Ball in Game Five. To see LeBron James get their one last time in a Finals game was a real treat, and watching Irving ice the game with an incredible scoring binge felt like watching a young Kobe. Those two performances were enabled by Draymond Green’s suspension, and will almost definitely not be replicated tonight. The illegal screens that Tristan Thompson was setting on a regular basis on Andre Iguodala will not matter as much when Green is their to switch on to James. The impossibly difficult shots that Irving was hitting in Game Five will still be impossibly hard to hit tonight.

The Splash Brothers will probably be better tonight with Green back on the court. Curry is a not nearly as good without Dray, the Warriors main playmaker, on the court. Harrison Barnes is not the same kind of payer that Green is, he can not be relied upon to keep the offense moving when Klay and Steph are tied up. This has been my main argument against Barnes being a max contract kind of player. Barnes can hit open three’s and occasional go to the rim for a big dunk, but he does have the offensive tool box to orchestrate an offense. With Green back in the lineup the Warriors go back to being nigh impossible to defend.

Maybe I’d feel differently about tonight’s game if the Cavs had a third player that they could reliably count on to get baskets down the stretch. I don’t want to poor any more dirt of Kevin Love’s grave, but the fact is he has been horrible in these Finals. For a player of Loves ability to only shoot one of five in a Finals game is insane. Is there any chance that Love is still on this team come next May? There have now been two head coaches that could not find a way to get optimal efficiency out of Love in Cleveland. His defense has improved, but he will always be a target against teams that run a lot of pick and roll, which is most of the league at this point. Kevin only has one game in which he’s grabbed more than five rebounds in this series, which takes away about half of his value as someone who can spark fast breaks out of his outlet passes. He spends more of the Cavs possessions standing in one of the corners waiting for a pass that is not coming. He has only had 18 field goal attempts in the last three games he’s played. There’s a real argument that can be made that Love should not play if Cleveland is not going to make a concerted effort to get him shots.

I feel bad for Love. No kid grows up dreaming of being the scapegoat for a team losing in the NBA Finals. If the Cavs go down tonight or in Game Seven, Kevin Love will be the subject of hundreds of takedown pieces. I’m hoping that Love has a great game tonight and pushes the series to a seventh game. There’s no way that the Cavs are going to be able to get by with LeBron and Kyrie hitting over 60% of their shots tonight, and there is no other player on this roster capable of scoring on the same level as Love (no offense to you Richard Jefferson). This means getting Love looks in the post, and actually running plays through him. I’m not sure that Coach Lue has it in his playbook to do more than runs high screens for LeBron and Irving, which, to be fair, is a really strong play.

Against most of the teams in the league you can rely on the greatness of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to win a seven game series, but when you are playing one of the best teams in the history of the league you have to find ways to get your other players more involved. I tip my hat to Tristan Thompson for being such a monster on the glass throughout the playoffs. He has proven himself a max level player as a 6’9″ player who can play as a Center in small lineups. His offensive rebounding and screening ability has singlehandedly kept Cleveland in some of these Finals games. It feels like the Cavs have three pieces of a championship team, but is one short. That fourth piece should have been Love, but in a world where the Warriors exist you just can’t have two defensive liabilities on the court at the same time. Kyrie and Love are both defensive liabilities. Irving has proven that he can get hot enough on offense to compensate for his decencies on the other end, Love has not. This Cleveland organization tried to jam Love into their lineup like it was a fantasy sports team. It didn’t work. As they watch the Warriors celebrate their second title they will no doubt be thinking about how important it is to make sure that all the pieces fit.

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