CLEVELAND (AP) — Numbers may not necessarily lie, though they can deceive.
On one hand, Cleveland’s “Big Three” of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love combined for 84 points in Game 5 of the NBA Finals — the triumvirate’s highest such total this postseason.
Of course, Love scored two of them. Irving and James, they each had 41.
If Cleveland is to complete an NBA Finals comeback unlike any other — the Cavaliers pushed the series to Game 6 with a win at Golden State on Monday night — then getting something out of Love might be a huge help. For as great as James and Irving usually are, to expect more Game 5-type performances from them again is asking a ton.
So if Love lightens their load, as he often has in their two seasons together, Cleveland’s less-than-great odds in this series figure to markedly improve.
“We still have life,” Love said.
Game 6 on Thursday is the last game in Cleveland this season. It wouldn’t surprise many if it was Love’s last home game with the Cavaliers as well, with his name sure to come up during this rapidly approaching summer in trade rumors even if Cleveland pulls off this comeback and gets its long-elusive championship.
The Cavaliers sent Andrew Wiggins, now a star-in-waiting, to Minnesota in the deal that landed Love two summers ago that seemed one-sided toward Cleveland when it was first executed and now appears like it could be a huge boost to the Timberwolves going forward. And Love’s two postseasons with the Cavaliers could be best described as snakebitten, too.
Last year his shoulder was pulled from its socket in the first round, ending his playoffs right there. This year, he avoided serious playoff trouble until the finals. The Cavs lost the first three games in which he appeared, won by 30 in the game he missed with a concussion — sparking questions about whether they were better without Love — and staved off elimination by pulling away from Golden State in the second half of Game 5 on Monday night in a game where Love was a total non-factor offensively.
Out of the nearly 400 NBA games in which he’s logged 30 minutes or more, Love has scored no more than two points now twice. As if that could get made to look worse, it seemed Tuesday that the most-replayed “highlight” involving Love from Game 5 was when he appeared to try to give James a high-five and got no reciprocation.
“He’s an important player for them,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said earlier in the series, which his team still leads 3-2. “He’s a guy who you have to account for in a lot of ways. So when he’s on the floor, we’ll be well aware of his presence.”
For lack of a better term, Love is the third wheel in this Big Three setup.
It’s a role that Chris Bosh struggled with at times in Miami when James was there with Dwyane Wade and the Heat went to four consecutive NBA Finals. To outsiders, it could have seemed like a demotion. Bosh was the star in Toronto like Love was in Minnesota, then had to accept what looked like an ego hit in order to fit alongside fellow elite players.
But throughout those four years in Miami, it was James who often referred to Bosh as the “most important player” on the Heat. And when Bosh went scoreless in Miami’s Game 7 win over San Antonio in the 2013 NBA Finals, hardly anyone noticed.
“I ain’t scored no points,” Bosh said as he walked into the locker room champagne-spraying party that night, “but I’m still happy, though.”
There’s still a chance for Love to get one of those same moments.
He’s had 55 games of 20 or more points in his two Cleveland seasons, and the Cavs are 40-15 in those games. They’d surely take a couple more of those efforts right about now.
“We get to go back home, and we’ve played well there all year,” Love said. “We love playing there in front of the home fans, so this is a good opportunity for us.”
A good opportunity for him, too.