CLEVELAND – In what was a tense and back-and-forth game between the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers and the eighth-seeded Detroit Pistons, Cleveland’s much-maligned stretch forward Kevin Love proved to be the difference-maker in a 106-101 Game 1 win.
One year after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury during the Cavs four-game sweep of the Boston Celtics last spring and watching helplessly from the bench as the Golden State Warriors won the NBA title in six games over Cleveland, Love is back, and looks like a man on a mission.
In his first post-season game since his fateful encounter with Kelly Olynyk, Love scored a career playoff high 28 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, and shot 4-of-8 from three-point range. Love would combine with fellow ‘Big Three” members Kyrie Irving (31 points) and LeBron James (22 points) to score 81 of Cleveland’s 106 points Sunday afternoon.
Aided by a Reggie Jackson meltdown that led to a technical foul in the fourth, that fueled Cleveland’s surge, the Pistons failed to take advance of a golden opportunity to steal Game 1 in Cleveland, despite shooting 52 percent and making 15-of-29 shots from three-point rane.
Whether or not Stan Van Gundy’s logic that LeBron James gets favorable calls, they had a bigger problem with the reemergence of KLove 2.0
To say that Love being back—and fully healthy—for the Cavaliers is an understatement. His presence brings a much needed outside shooting threat that the Cavs sorely missed last spring vs. Golden State. While many will never know if Cleveland would have defeated the eventual NBA champions with a fully healthy squad. In 2015-16, Love looks—and is demanding the ball down in the post—more visible confident this year.
For the record, I have always liked Love in Cleveland, and has been nothing but flabbergasted by my fellow Cleveland sports fans who have often made him the scapegoat whenever Cleveland loses, nitpick at his defensive issues or the national media who likes to manufacture fake stories about him being unhappy, or wanting to be traded.
Why give up a player that you traded former top overall pick Andrew Wiggins for?
It makes no sense.
That being said, if Game 1 is any indication, THIS Cleveland team is much deeper bench wise, more focused—thanks to ESPN’s non-stop love affair with Chef Curry and Co.—and in my opinion a better coach in Tyrone Lue who knows how to utilize proper rotations.
Heck, did you see Love at the five, when the Cavs went small? Yup! Last year, David Blatt’s seemingly head-scratching obsession of not going to his bench and playing a six to seven man rotation, which in my eyes, wore the already short-handed Cavs down in the Finals.
While Cleveland will likely dispatch of the feisty Pistons and fight their way back to the Finals, and be a underdog against the media darlings from the Bay Area, don’t be surprised if Love—and the rest of the Cavs—play with a BIG chip on their shoulder, as they hope to finally show that Love does indeed conquer all.