Cleveland Cavaliers: Can Kevin Love find redemption in the 2017 NBA Finals?

May 31, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) during the NBA Finals media day at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
May 31, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) during the NBA Finals media day at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

After a lackluster performance in last year’s championship series, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love is in perfect position to find redemption in the 2017 NBA Finals

The first three rounds of the NBA Playoffs have left much to be desired, thanks to the utter dominance on the part of the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s been so bad that TNT analyst Charles Barkley even said that he’d “rather watch the NHL playoffs” at this point.

Luckily enough, the NBA Finals, which feature the two most dominant teams in the league, are here. While the attention will focus on Kevin Durant, who joined the Warriors for this very moment, Stephen Curry and LeBron James, who could be one upset away from surpassing Michael Jordan in the NBA’s all-time rankings, there’s another star in this series that has a lot weighing on his impending performance.

That’s Kevin Love.

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If you remember the 2016 NBA Finals, he was a virtual disappointment and subject of media scrutiny through the majority of the series. Even though Cleveland went on to come back from a 3-1 series deficit, which no other team in NBA Finals history had done, his no-show in the Finals was not forgotten.

However, based on his postseason play this season it appears that he’s found comfort in Cleveland’s system. But the NBA Finals is a lot different from the playoffs. It’s the place where stars become superstars and where superstars become legends.

So, the questions remains, can Kevin Love sustain his level of play and redeem himself in the 2017 NBA Finals?

During the first three rounds of the playoffs, Love has been a blessing to Cleveland’s offense.

According to basketball reference, he’s cashing on 46.7 percent of three-point attempts from the corner where nearly half of his long distance attempts come from. He’s also experiencing playoff career highs in points, (17.2 points per game), field goal percentage (45.7%) and three-point field goal percentage (47.5).

During the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, Love averaged a playoff best 22.6 points, 2.6 assists and 12.4 rebounds on 48.6 percent shooting from the field and a mind-boggling 53.5 percent from deep.

On defense he’ll never be Kawhi Leonard or Draymond Green, but he’s made strides becoming a better overall defender. Per, his defense has lowered opponents shooting averages of 5.6 percent when guarded six feet from the rim. But again, can he sustain this play against Golden State when it matters the most?

Love’s final stat line in last year’s NBA Finals was a porous 7.3 points and 5.6 rebounds on 36 percent shooting from the field and 26 percent from deep. Beyond the stats, he looked helpless at times.

And a big part of that was Draymond Green, a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, whose been chomping at the bit since the beginning of the season.

"[via]“I want to destroy Cleveland … I want to annihilate them”"

This might be the individual matchup that decides the series, too. Love has the size advantage but not Green’s aggression or quickness. During last year’s Finals, he had no answer for Green on either side of the ball.

It’s time to find out if Love is ready to bounce back from last year’s dirt-poor performance

On offense, he only managed to score in double-figures twice, during Game 1 (17 points) and Game 4 (11 points) throughout the entire series. On defense, he couldn’t handle Green’s quickness, forcing Ty Lue to put LeBron James or Tristan Thompson on Green, which limited his minutes as well.

And to make matters worse, Golden State’s defense can be just as lethal as their offense. Per, Golden State has allowed 99.1 points per 100 possessions, which are the fewest through three rounds. Not to mention, they’ve done this against offensives that ranked near the top during the regular season (Portland, Utah, San Antonio).

Golden State’s defense begins and ends with Draymond. Per, Golden State is allowing 94.4 points per 100 possessions when Green is on the court and 111.9 when Green heads to the bench.

Lue has to find ways to keep Love engaged, much like he managed to do during the Conference Finals against the Celtics. Although, this is probably the best Love that the Warriors will have seen in three years. His confidence is at an all-time high, as it should be, too.

"[via]Kevin Love on Draymond: “He’s a guy who said he wanted us, and he has us starting next Thursday…”"

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LeBron will be LeBron, Kyrie will be Kyrie; they are given. But the x-factor in this series and player who Cleveland can’t afford to fall short – again – is Kevin Love. It’s time to find out if Love is ready to bounce back from last year’s dirt-poor performance.