Notes, quotes and observations after the Cavaliers led wire-to-wire for the first time this season and won their 12th game, 107-104, over the New York Knicks Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
1. Before we get into what happened, it must be noted that Kevin Love said he thought he would play Wednesday, the Cavs’ last game before the All-Star break against the Brooklyn Nets.
2. That in itself is progress.
3. Love is just two games into his return after missing 50 following Nov. 2 surgery on his left foot. He played six minutes Friday at Washington, sat out Saturday at Indiana, then went 16 minutes against the Knicks.
4. “It felt pretty good to get back out there. I feel like I got in some sort of a rhythm. I enjoyed tonight, especially being back home,” said Love, whom the team saluted on the Humungotron with a video accompanied by the “Welcome Back Kotter” theme.
5. Asked if he was experiencing soreness in the surgically repaired middle toe, he said, “No, but tonight was the most I’ve played in three months in a game. We’ll see tomorrow, but should be fine.
6. “It’s responding really well. I don’t see any setbacks that are going to come, especially since we’re heading into All-Star break. So we get this next one out of the way, hopefully we can get a win on Wednesday and then I’ll have another week to work out, work on my cardio and hopefully get some sun.”
7. This marked the Cavs’ first victory in the six games Love has played.
8. “It wasn’t pretty at all points in the second half, but we were able to get it done,” Love said. “Sometimes it’s going to be like that. A win’s a win, but naturally I’d like to finally get back, put together a full game. That will feel like a big win for me and the team. I still feel like I was a part of this tonight, I just would have liked to have been out there in the second half, but that will come.”
9. Love helped stake the Cavs to a 63-48 halftime lead, then sat the final two quarters.
10. “I just spoke to him and he said he felt good being out there, just got winded. But the game plan was to play him somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-16 minutes. Let him just kind of burn it out in the first half and see how he feels tomorrow,” Cavs coach Larry Drew said.
11. Love scored 14 points with nine rebounds and an assist. He hit 4-of-10 from the field, 2-of-6 from long range and 4-of-4 from the free throw line. The Cavs outscored the Knicks by 13 with him on the court.
12. The only blip on his stat line was three turnovers.
13. “I missed (Collin Sexton) on a couple long ones, a little different when it’s not ‘Bron, you’re going to,” Love said, referring to LeBron James. “But I’ll find ways to kick it out to (Sexton), get him involved in that way as well, have him playing downhill.”
14. As he praised Love, Drew also ribbed him about turnovers on his trademark touchdown passes.
15. “I think he looks great. He’s doing some things that we’ve really missed,” Drew said. “You can put him in the post and he can manufacture a shot and get to the free throw line. He moves out to the 3 against a bigger guy. He still likes throwing those long passes and throwing them away, so he’s actually the same Kevin. Just kidding.
16. “He’s moving very well. He seems to be playing with a pretty good rhythm. More than I had anticipated just in two games. We knew he’d be winded. But as far as his movement and what he’s doing out on the floor, pretty good.”
17. Asked what having Love back does for the Cavs, Larry Nance Jr. joked, “He steals my rebounds.” (That really wasn’t the case as Nance pulled down 16, 10 offensive.)
18. “The floor spacing is so much different when he’s out there,” Nance said. “That’s a dead-eye shooter. When we run pick-and-rolls and whoever is guarding him is supposed to tag me rolling, if you do, that’s a 3. It opens up pick-and-rolls, it opens up a more established post game. The drive-and-kicks with him are just wide open.
19. “Since he’s been back, he’s been super vocal and talking to us. Any time you get a player of that caliber back, it’s going to be a major boost.”
20. Drew said the difference is evident when Love is on the court for the Cavs.
21. “You can clearly see that when he’s out on the floor we have a really good rhythm,” Drew said. “He can make life easy for a lot of guys. They realize that and they’re putting him in position to make plays, whether he’s in the post or he’s on the perimeter. But you can just kind of see our energy picks up when he’s in the game. A lot of that is having that go-to guy that you can put the ball in his hands and he can make things happen. Whether he’s in the post or we run some type of pick-and-roll where he’s popping off the screen, he’s always a threat wherever he is on the floor and you can see our guys are feeding off that.”
22. Guard Jordan Clarkson predicted, “There’s a lot of adjustments teams are going to have to make when he starts playing heavy minutes for us and leading this team.”
23. In case you were wondering why the Cavs’ bench exploded when Nance fed rookie Sexton for a dunk with 6:58 left in the second quarter, Nance gladly explained.
24. “Did you see him win the McDonald’s Slam Dunk Contest? We’re yet to see that,” Nance said. “So him getting that one was a pretty momentous moment. Like, ‘Oh, my God, this is incredible.’ We gave him a hard time … we called it his first real dunk.”
25. Love added, “He’s been talking now for three weeks he can dunk the ball, he finally showed it in game. I was happy for him.”
26. With recent acquisitions at the trade deadline and Love’s return, there is also reason to believe their 3-point shooting might improve. They went 14-for-44 beyond the arc against the Knicks as Sexton (2-for-8), Clarkson (2-for-8), Nik Stauskas (1-for-7) and Matthew Dellavedova (0-for-3) combined to hit 5-for-26. The rest of the team hit 9-of-18, led by Brandon Knight (3-for-4), Marquese Chriss (2-for-3) and Nance (1-for-2).
27. “That’s huge. With Kevin being back, we’re going to need guys that can stretch it out to the 3,” Drew said. “Tonight, Nik didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but I have all the confidence in the world that he’ll shoot it better. Brandon Knight, another guy that’s capable of making 3s. Surprisingly, Marquese has stepped out and he’s knocking them down.
28. “We’re a different ball club when we can consistently make 3s because it just opens up your defense. It opens up driving lanes because the defense has to run you off the 3.”
29. Drew is coaching Knight for the second time; they were together in 2013-14 with the Bucks. The eighth overall pick of the Pistons in 2011, Knight missed all of last season with a torn left ACL. Drew would like nothing better than to see Knight, 27, revive his career in Cleveland.
30. “That would be huge,” Drew said. “I know what he’s gone through with the injury and trying to come back from it. I know what he’s capable of doing. I know what type of player he is. He’s a fierce competitor. Not only does he do it from an offensive end, but defensively, he’s a tough kid.
31. “That addition in our lineup gives us a little versatility as far as we can move people around. Tonight I started him with Collin, which I wanted to take a real strong look at. It gives me another guy that can handle the ball, but also it takes Collin off the ball to where you can run things for him away from the ball. Having Brandon in there does a lot of good things for you on both ends of the floor. And I know how bad he wants to get back to the Brandon Knight of old. Certainly if he can get back to that, you guys are going to see a terrific player.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.