With Kevin Love out for the rest of the season, the Cleveland Cavaliers take a huge hit to their chances of becoming NBA Champions.
The glenohumeral joint, which connects your arms to your shoulder blades, is one of the most mobile joints in the human body. The oft used ball and socket joint is essential to everyday tasks like pulling your out of control child while he or she is on a leash, lifting your arms up to your face when said child purposefully charges into a costumed theme park worker like a linebacker, and shrugging apathetically about all the choices you have made in your life that has led you to this embarrassing point in time.
A fortunate majority of people will never have to experience the anguish of dislocating the glenohumeral joint in their lifetimes. Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love is no longer one of those fortunate people.
In the first quarter of game 4 between the Cavaliers and Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, Kevin Love got tangled up with Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk and came away with a dislocated shoulder after Olynyk violently pulled on Love’s arm, dislodging that do it all joint. Love would have to undergo surgery to repair the shoulder, ruling him out for the rest of the season.
Especially in basketball, without the glenohumeral joint, the human body, while still functional, cannot perform at peak performance. Similarly, without Kevin Love, the Cleveland Cavaliers find themselves without a key piece that will doom them in the NBA Playoffs.
Though overshadowed by the individual brilliance of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, the importance of Love on the court cannot be overstated. His ability to spread the floor on offense and provide an intelligent rebounder on both ends of the court will be sorely missed as the Cleveland Cavaliers try to fight through the Eastern Conference without their versatile power forward.
During the season, Love was one of the more durable Cavaliers, playing in 75 out of the 82 regular season games. His absences have produced mixed results for Cleveland with the team going 3-4 in the games he has missed.
Looking closely at the schedule, the late season game against the Boston Celtics can be thrown out because James, Irving, and Love were out, leaving Cleveland to play a skeleton roster with the likes of Matthew Dellavedova, Shawn Marion, and James Jones getting heavy minutes. Even so, against teams that were above .500 at the time, they were 1-2 without Love, including a 15-point loss to their current opponents the Chicago Bulls.
So far, the Eastern Conference Semifinal round results have been predictable. Without Love to keep Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, or Taj Gibson honest on defense, the Cleveland Cavaliers are struggling to get their offense, which ranked third best in the NBA in offensive efficiency during the regular season, on track.
With Love off the court in stretches during the regular season, the Cavaliers scored 4.8 points less per 100 possessions. During the playoffs, the difference has been magnified further with the Cleveland scoring 20.3 points more per 100 possessions when he is on the court. His impact offensively was felt in their first game against the Bulls.
In their first game without Love on Monday, the Cavs were only able to hang 92 points on the Bulls, well below their playoff average of 104 points in the playoffs so far. With head coach David Blatt experimenting with roster combinations while having to adjust to one of the best defensive teams in the league, the Cavs offense that has been a powerful force in the NBA is stumbling at the wrong time without Love.
Their three-point shooting, which ranked fifth-best in the NBA in terms of three-point field goal percentage, has taken a tumble without Love and his 36.7 percent from beyond the three point arc. Since Love’s dislocated shoulder, Cleveland has shot 24.6 percent from the three-point line.
With the Cavaliers attempting the second most three-pointers for the season, they are caught between a rock and a hard place in terms of identity. Without Love, they are going to need players like J.R. Smith, Mike Miller, and James Jones to step up their production from beyond the three-point arc to make up for the loss of Love.
Seeing as how Smith is still one game away from coming back due to the Jon Jones-like backhand he gave to Jae Crowder, and Jones and Miller combining to shooting 1 for 4 from the field against the Bulls on Monday, do not hold your breath for that to happen.
If they are unable to gun it from three-point range like they have been, they have to become a better defensive team then. Even though they have big bodies like Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson to funnel dribble penetration, improving on their defense, which ranks 18th in efficiency this season giving up 106.3 points per 100 possessions, midstream during the NBA Playoffs is a tall order, especially a team being coached by an offensive savant, not a defensive one.
One ray of hope for Cleveland is that they do have LeBron James to lean on in these dark times. The best player in the game right now has vowed to play more aggressively in order to offset the loss of Love.
However, prior to his days in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau made it a habit of torturing James with some interesting defensive schemes while he was an assistant with the Boston Celtics. James does have Kyrie Irving to help him out now, but it is not too far to say that without a third player like Love, who can stretch out the defense from the forward position, Thibodeau and the Bulls, who rank ninth in points allowed in the league, have a plan to stop him.
Without Love on the court, the Cavaliers are effectively playing against the Bulls with one arm, with the other dangling helplessly as the Bulls attack their listless defense with only LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to really account for offensively. Coincidentally, the dislocation of Love’s glenohumeral joint signifies the dislocation of the Cavaliers versatile joint – Kevin Love.
Love represents a player that brings it all together for the Cavaliers on offensive, able to move the ball effectively and become a threat of his own close to the basket or from the outside where he can be deadly. With Cleveland unable to call upon his services, do not be surprised if they will be where they were without Love last season – at home watching the Finals.
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