SC on the Road: LeBron, Cavs trying to boost Love's spirits

ByBrian Windhorst ESPN logo
Thursday, June 16, 2016

CLEVELAND -- Annoyed with a question recently, LeBron James disavowed the experiences of his 13-year NBA career that includes seven trips to the Finals.

"I don't really think about past experiences too much," James said dismissively. "This moment is what it is today."

With apologies to James, this was a canard.

James keeps not only relevant files of his career in his memory banks for use at a moment's notice, but he actively seeks out others' past moments for use when needed. And he went to one earlier this week when he and Kyrie Irving combined for 82 points and Kevin Love ended up with two points and three rebounds with just five shots in the Cavaliers' Game 5 victory in Oakland.

In conversations with teammates, James invoked Chris Bosh from Game 7 of the 2013 Finals. James and the Miami Heat won that game and the championship over the San Antonio Spurs. Bosh only took five shots in that game and missed them all, going scoreless. But his spacing of the floor helped James and Dwyane Wade combine for 60 points.

It's part of what seems to be a team-wide effort leading into Game 6 to keep Love's spirits up. That includes coach Tyronn Lue's plan to start Love no matter what lineup the Golden State Warriors deploy in the wake of losing injured Andrew Bogut for the series.

Love's teammates and Luefound themselves defending their star power forward and his lack of tangible production.

"It's hard enough to win a game in a regular season and then to win a game in the NBA Finals, and guys are focused on Kevin not scoring the basketball," Lue said. "He did a lot of great things. Our rebounding was down because he's on the perimeter. He's guarding perimeter guys. They play five smalls, so he's not going to be able to rebound the ball as well as if he's playing inside against a bigger guy."

These are true sentiments, some of the same things were said about Bosh when his production varied in big playoff games as he played alongside two ball-dominant stars. It's hard for Love to have much of an impact when he gets 17 touches, as he did in Game 5, and James and Irving combine for 128 of them.

When Love did touch the ball, things didn't go well. The Cavs shot 4-of-11 overall with five turnovers on plays in which Love touched the ball, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

This left Love to admit that his role in this series at times is to act as a decoy, to stand in the corner and be guarded to create space for James and Irving.

"I think our primary option was for those guys to play downhill and attack the paint and the rim," Love said. "So for me, it was just kind of -- I know it's funny to say, but run in the corner, let those guys do their thing, and on the defensive end try to apply myself as much as I could."

That's not ideally how you use a player with a $113 million contract in the NBA Finals. That is a point plenty of Cavs fans have raised as criticism of Love has flared up. But that is the reality, and in a series where he isn't a great matchup fit, perhaps it's the best game plan.

"Sometimes we've got to ride the hot hand -- in that situation, we need Kev to do other things," J.R. Smith said. "If he needs to be a decoy, he's willing to do that."

It seems likely the Cavs are going to need more from Love in what's left in the series to have a chance. With Draymond Green coming off suspension and having his time at the center position, Love is facing an uphill task.

"We definitely need Kev to play better," James said. "We want him to play better, but we don't want to add no more stress on him or added pressure. We just want him to go out and play, just let it hang out."

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