INDEPENDENCE: Kelly Olynyk pulled Kevin Love out of the playoffs. Now the Cavaliers have to hope they aren’t following him out the door.
Love is not expected to play again during this postseason, Cavs General Manager David Griffin said Tuesday. Griffin called Love’s return “highly unlikely” and said a final decision whether to have surgery is expected within the next couple of days. Surgery would completely eliminate him from returning.
“The damage to his shoulder is extensive,” Griffin said. “I think it would be a real surprise if he were able to participate in the postseason. I still have a sliver of hope for something very late, but highly unlikely.”
It’s a crushing blow for a team that entered this postseason with the best record over the final three months of the regular season. The Cavs seemed to have everything in place for a deep run toward the franchise’s first championship. Now the Big Three is down to two.
“It’s a big blow for us,” LeBron James said.
Love suffered a dislocated left shoulder, torn ligaments and a torn labrum during Sunday’s Game 4 victory at Boston. He was injured fighting for a rebound when Olynyk pinned Love’s left arm under his own arm and pulled it out of socket. Love called it a “bush league” play and believes Olynyk did it intentionally, although Olynyk denied that to the Boston Globe.
Griffin wouldn’t divulge how he felt about the one-game suspension Olynyk received for the play.
“I’m 100 percent sure the league doesn’t care what I think and it’s not going to change the outcome. It’s in the past; we just have to move on,” Griffin said. “It sickens me that a nonbasketball play resulted in what it did. It’s very difficult to watch because it’s totally unnatural from a basketball perspective.”
The Cavs returned to practice Tuesday following a day off with a whole new set of challenges. Coach David Blatt must overhaul his lineup and rotation since the Cavs will also be without J.R. Smith for the first two games of the conference semifinals. Smith was suspended for two games for punching Jae Crowder.
“Missing those two pieces obviously there’s going to be a difference just personnel-wise of what you have on the floor,” Blatt said. “We’re not going to try to reinvent the wheel but we’ll make the adjustments that we have to.”
Those adjustments will not include Anderson Varejao, who tore his Achilles tendon in December. Griffin ruled out the possibility of Varejao returning during this postseason.
The Cavs are still waiting to learn their next opponent. The Milwaukee Bucks stunned the Chicago Bulls on the road Monday night, forcing a Game 6 in Milwaukee on Thursday. If a Game 7 is necessary, it will be played Saturday.
Either way, the Cavs will open the semifinals at home Monday night. Even without Love, they are still favored to win the East (1-2) by the online gambling site Bovada, which released its updated odds Tuesday afternoon. They entered the playoffs tied with the Golden State Warriors to win a championship, but have since slipped to 12-5 behind the Warriors (8-5).
Griffin, though, tried painting the Cavs now as the underdogs.
“I’m really happy we get to go from being the hunted to the hunter,” he said.
Regardless of their next opponent, the Cavs will still have arguably the two best players on the court in James and Kyrie Irving. But now they’ll have to rely on role players and long-forgotten veterans more than they expected.
“We all have to pick our own game up. We can’t fill Kevin’s shoes, you can’t do that, he’s special for a reason,” James said. “We all have a lot to do, even more to help this team win.”
Griffin at this point couldn’t rule out Love’s recovery time affecting next season. Love can be a free agent this summer and it’s unclear how his shoulder injury affects his future.
“I think that’s the last thing on his mind right now,” James said. “What’s on his mind is his shoulder and how disappointed he is, how hurt he is over the fact that he can’t play in this postseason. I don’t think he’s thought about the offseason or what he wants to do. I haven’t had that conversation with him and I shouldn’t have to have that conversation with him, especially right now when we’re going through this challenge and this battle of trying to win a championship.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.