#StrongTakeAlert. Buckle up.
Okay… let’s just start here…
Teams always play better at home. I get that. Regardless of whether Kevin Love played or not, you had to expect the Cavs wouldn’t look like they did the first two nights. Role players are more comfortable in front of their home crowd… coaches and players make adjustments after two games… and the sheer desperation of facing a 3-0 hole… You add all that up, and you were bound to see a better Cavs team last night.
But still… Cleveland is noticeably better without Kevin Love, right?
It’s not even necessarily about the defense. I mean, granted, that’s a huge part of it. They were flying around the court defensively last night. Getting into passing lanes, grabbing every rebound, playing as a unit. You can hide one garbage defender like Kyrie if the other four are locked in, you can’t hide two. And when you take a dumb, slow, short-for-his-position guy like Love, who can’t play the pick and roll against Draymond, can’t stay in front of Barnes or Iggy, and can’t keep Bogut or Ezeli off the boards, and replace him with a smart, long, still-surprisingly-athletic wing like Jefferson, you’re going to see a noticeable difference from the jump. Starting lineup, bench unit, everything. You redistribute Love’s minutes to Jefferson, Frye, and Mosgov, you’re a better defensive unit in every facet of the game. And defense is probably the best and only way the Cavs are going to win this series.
But defense aside, aren’t the Cavs better offensively without Love too? Obviously that’s counterintuitive. Love, by himself, is a better offensive player than anyone you replace him with. And during the regular season, when things aren’t necessarily do-or-die, it’s great to have a third option like Love who can, at times, be your first option. He’s still a great individual player when he’s allowed to be one.
But within the dynamics of this team, is he really that great?
Aren’t you better off redistributing Kevin Love’s 17 shots, giving 7 to Jefferson, and the other 10 split between Lebron and Kyrie? Aren’t you better off letting Lebron and Kyrie worry about getting their shots and having Richard Jefferson flying around grabbing offensive boards and cutting to the lane? Having three great offensive players sounds nice, but can it really work when all three of them need shots? Especially when two of those guys are shoot-first players like Kyrie and Love?
Don’t the dynamics of the Cavs crunch-time offense work better with Jefferson (or Frye, or Shump) instead of Love? Lebron and Kyrie are gonna do their thing, Tristan is gonna roam around the paint for offensive rebounds, and JR is gonna roam around the perimeter for spot up opportunities. Isn’t it kind of more beneficial to have a guy like RJ cutting to the basket and flying around the court for loose balls and moving the ball quickly on the perimeter (the ball was in and out of his hands ridiculously fast last night) than to have a guy like Love sitting out on the perimeter or holding the ball or needing to get involved in lackluster pick-and-rolls. I know I’m underselling Love’s talent here, but what else does he really add in this specific role? The team is at it’s best when both Lebron and Kyrie are controlling offense and whipping the ball around. And they can’t do that as well with Love as they can with Jefferson.
Add in the changes defensively – the length, the quickness, the ability of all five guys to get out on the break – and this team as a whole is just better off without Love. They swarm defensively, they get out in transition, they spread the court offensively, and they move the ball. It’s all just a better fit for this team.
So yes, as scorching hot of a take as it is… The Cleveland Cavaliers actually are better off without Kevin Love. MUCH better off, honestly. And if I’m the Cavaliers, I do everything short of literally murdering him to keep him off the court this series. Because the second he gets back out there, this series is over.
But if he’s done?
Cavs in 7.