CLEVELAND: Twenty-eight thoughts for 28 second-quarter points in Wednesday’s 116-78 win over the Toronto Raptors, giving the Cavs a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals…
1. The hottest shooter in the building was soaking his feet in an ice bucket while LeBron James and Kyrie Irving dressed for the podium late Wednesday night. Kevin Love broke out of his shooting funk with a terrific night, then shot down the idea of going to the podium and instead enjoyed his lengthy postgame routine in silence while James and Irving even made the long walk down the corridor and into the interview room inside Quicken Loans Arena.
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2. “I come into every game looking for a game like this,” Love said from the corner of the Cavs’ locker room. “More than anything, I just wanted to respond and try to help our team win.”
3. Love is incredibly guarded with the media, particularly in group settings when he isn’t familiar with everyone in the scrum. But it wasn’t always that way. He used to be gregarious and opinionated, according to those who knew him during his early years in Minnesota. He was quick with jokes and personable, but then he felt he was burned by the national media during his time in Minnesota and everything changed.
4. Love retreated to canned answers and the company line, never straying far from clichés. He marginalized those in the media he liked and previously trusted. Now he won’t give reporters his contact information and doesn’t return texts from those who previously had it.
5. When Love does want to open up on topics, he does it through a medium he can control: The Players Tribune, a website where athletes can write first-person essays. The agency that represents Love has a stake in the website, which is why Love used it to break the news he was re-signing with the Cavs last summer.
6. Every athlete has his own way of how they want to handle the press. This is the way Love elects to do it. As a result, he doesn’t get many questions when he does go to the podium – particularly when he has to share it with James or James and Irving. So much time passed the last time the three shared the podium together that James and Irving both laughed when Love finally did get a question.
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7. So Love chose to skip the podium Wednesday on a night his performance most certainly warranted it: 25 points, 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range and 8-of-10 overall. He made his first six shots, played inside-out as he prefers and was a menacing, aggressive scorer on a night the Cavs needed him to get back to the player he was when they were sweeping teams in the playoffs.
8. Love shot the ball poorly during the two games in Toronto, going a combined 5-of-23 in the losses, including 3-of-11 from the 3-point line. “He had a bad game,” coach Tyronn Lue said during Tuesday’s off day. “He’s human. We think guys are going to play great every night. He’s had an unbelievable playoffs, he’s played very well and he’s had two bad shooting nights.”
9. Lue later acknowledged, however, that he had a talk with Love prior to Game 5, reminding him to keep shooting even if the shots aren’t falling. His teammates told him the same thing. Channing Frye talked to him. So did Richard Jefferson.
10. “Kevin is an extremely talented player and we just tell him that we believe in him and constantly reinforce that,” Frye said. “I think people need to understand the work that he puts in. He puts a lot of pressure on himself to be everything he wants to be, and we just want him to be regular old Kevin. We want him to be ‘I love nuggets’ Kevin.”
11. The nuggets comment, of course, is in reference to the line from the Lil Kev character that Love plays in the popular State Farm commercials. His personality shines through in brief glimpses in those spots, but he is often portrayed as quiet and guarded because that’s how he acts with the media. His teammates insist that isn’t who he is at all.
12. “Kevin has always been out of his shell,” James said. “He just doesn’t do it around you guys because it’s not about that. What we do as a team, we keep everything in house.”
13. James, of course, publicly called out Love on Twitter last season with a fit in/fit out tweet that even folks within the organization will now acknowledge was directed at Love. Now compare that to this season, when a handful of Cavs players watched Game 3 of the Western Conference finals together in a private section of a popular sports bar in Toronto adjacent to Air Canada Centre. Love and James sat next to each other and watched the game together while a few writers coincidentally sat in front of them.
14. James has been visibly frustrated with both Love and Irving at times during their two years together, but he’s sticking by them. That’s why he continued to play through them when both were struggling during Game 3 in Toronto and why he kept going back to Love when he struggled in Game 4, too.
15. “We didn’t get to this point in our season by me taking over every game,” James said. “I kind of laugh at it when I hear from you guys, when I do my media availability, people saying, ‘take over the game.’ My presence on the floor is much bigger than what numbers talk about. When you have a young superstar like this guy (Irving), you have Kevin, who’s a superstar as well, and they’ve helped us get to this point, so you don’t just (panic) because we lose two games or we didn’t play as well as we could. There may be a time when I may have to have one of those big games, but until then, just relax.”
16. The home team has won every game in this series – both regular season and postseason – but the Cavs have destroyed the Raptors at the Q. All four wins have been by double figures, and the three playoff wins have been by a combined 88 points. This was their most lopsided postseason victory in franchise history, breaking the mark they set in Game 1 last week.
17. “They kicked out butts. That’s the bottom line,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “The physicality, we didn’t meet that standard tonight. For whatever reason we haven’t met it here in this building.”
18. At every turn, no matter how hard they try to say they respect the Raptors, some of the Cavs’ words prove otherwise. Jefferson walked up to the podium after the Game 3 loss and proclaimed “We the South will be fine.” Lue said the tape didn’t reveal much to correct between Games 3 and 4 and James delivered the haymaker – intentional or not – when he insisted this didn’t feel like much adversity.
19. “I’ve been a part of some really adverse situations, and I just didn’t believe that this was one of them,” James said after the win. “Just been very calm about the whole situation, understanding that our guys knew what we did and what we didn’t accomplish in Toronto. … From the very moment that we lost Game 4, I was just very calm about the whole situation, seeing the good that we can prepare and get better for Game 5 instead of looking at all the bad that we did. Just mentally having these guys focus and they answered the call.”
20. Perhaps most importantly and most overlooked, this was arguably the Cavs’ best defensive effort of this series. The 78 points were the fewest they scored in this postseason, they shot 39 percent, committed 19 turnovers and got outrebounded by 21. Those 19 turnovers? They led to 30 points on a night the Cavs won by 38.
21. “I feel like we lost the game in the first quarter,” Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll said. “They scored their first eight points off of offensive rebounds. That’s just effort and heart.”
22. The Cavs did a better job of neutralizing Bismack Biyombo (seven points, four rebounds) after he averaged 20 rebounds in the Raptors’ two victories. Credit for that goes to Tristan Thompson, who outworked Biyombo for nine points and 10 rebounds after Biyombo beat him so badly in the post in Game 4 that Lue went to Channing Frye early in the game just to try and draw Biyombo out of the lane.
23. “I was definitely pissed off, disappointed and angry,” Thompson said. “Definitely didn’t want to lose two games in Toronto, but I watched a lot of film and just watched myself and saw what my energy was. It was very low. I knew I had to come out tonight and from the opening tip be very aggressive and get my juices flowing and play hard.”
24. After combining for 67 points in Game 4, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry combined for 27 on Wednesday. They shot a combined 7-of-20, reverting to the same shooting woes that plagued them during the first two games in Cleveland.
25. The Cavs are one win away from the NBA Finals and can close out the Raptors on Friday at Air Canada Centre. It will take an effort similar to this one given how well the Raptors have played the Cavs at home and now facing elimination. James has a streak of his own on the line considering he has won a road playoff game in each of his last 24 series. This is his last chance to keep it going, although he dismissed the importance of such a streak Wednesday and insisted he didn’t know about it.
26. A Game 7 would be Sunday, if necessary, but the Cavs would like to close this series out on Friday and get nearly a week off before the Finals begin June 2. If it’s the Thunder, the Finals will begin in Cleveland. But first they must finish off the Raptors and their coach, who insists his team still has some fight left.
27. “It was embarrassing tonight the way we played, but it’s only one game,” Casey said. “It’s still 3-2, and yes, they spanked us here, but also we won two games in Toronto. We go away with that confidence.”
28. They’re going to need it. Talk to you Friday from Air Canada Centre and a possible podium celebration that Love will most certainly want to be part of.