OAKLAND, Calif. — The NBA’s elite teams all have at least three major stars these days, but for much of his first three seasons in Cleveland, Kevin Love has seemed more like a third wheel who was out of sync with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
Early in the Eastern Conference finals, James went so far as to say, “We want the mentality of Kevin from Minnesota,” referring to Love’s days as the Timberwolves’ main man, while adding that the Cavs can use him at a lower rate.
After averaging only 13.8 points through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Love broke through with a stellar performance against the Celtics that boosted his playoff scoring average to 17.2 points. He also is averaging a team-high 10.4 rebounds and shooting 47.5 percent from three-point range going into Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Warriors on Thursday night at Oracle Arena.
Asked on Media Day if he has tapped into “Minnesota Kevin” and can sustain it while going against the Warriors’ Draymond Green, who has given him trouble the past two years in the NBA Finals, Love smiled and said, “He was about 30 pounds heavier and has a terrible haircut.”
More seriously, Love said his goal in the series simply is to remain “assertive” when it comes to finding his place in the offense.
“It’s picking my spots, being assertive and just filling in the gaps when we know that ’Bron, being our leader, and Kyrie are going to be special,” Love explained.
Irving said the transition for Love in learning how to play a complementary role after eight seasons as the focal point in Minnesota was difficult. “It hasn’t been a smooth road for any of us,” Irving said. “For Kevin, I’ve just constantly told him to be himself. ‘We don’t want anybody else, Kev, we don’t want you to be outside of any boundaries. Your potential is endless and we believe in you, so go out there and play like it.’ ”
Lately, Love has done that, but he allowed that facing Green and a Warriors front line that has added Kevin Durant is a formidable challenge. Green said he tries to use his speed to force Love to uncomfortable spots. “In saying that, he still can have great games,” Green said. “When he’s going, he makes their team a lot better. So it is my job to try to take him out of the game.”
Of course, Green is known for playing with emotion, which involves a certain amount of expert trash talk. Asked if Love is susceptible to trash talk, Green deadpanned, “Everybody’s susceptible to that. I don’t care who you are.”
When that comment was relayed to Love, he laughed and said, “Yeah, I agree with him.
“He’s one of the best in the game at being a trash talker. He’s a guy that sets the tone for them, and this is the NBA Finals. I think that everybody expects that and hopes for that. It’s the best two teams in the league going at it. It’s definitely fun to be a part of, and it’s just part of the game.”