By Frank Pingue
CLEVELAND (Reuters) – Kevin Love missed Game Three of the NBA Finals with a concussion but he still had a major impact in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ critical victory as his team mates used his injury as a source of inspiration.
Love was placed in the league’s concussion protocol during Game Two of the NBA Finals after an accidental elbow from Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes, and his injury was viewed by some as a death knell for the Cavaliers’ title hopes.
But rather than fret the absence of their starting forward, a three-time All-Star who was averaging 16.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in the playoffs, Cleveland rallied around Love in a season-saving Game Three rout on Wednesday.
“Before we left the locker room, I know Kyrie (Irving) embraced him, I did as well. Told him, don’t worry about it. We’ve got him tonight,” Cleveland’s LeBron James told reporters after practice on Thursday.
“This is what a team is all about, for them to pick their brother up in a time of need, and him not to put too much pressure on himself or the team, and that we’re going to try to take care of business, which we were able to do.
“So I know it was uplifting to him, for sure, and it was for
our team as well.”
Without Love in the lineup, Cleveland stormed back into the NBA Finals with a 120-90, wire-to-wire win over the top-seeded defending champion Warriors to cut the best-of-seven series deficit to 2-1.
It was the latest setback for Love, who missed all of last season’s NBA Finals with a shoulder injury suffered earlier in the 2015 postseason.
“I know he definitely wanted to play for sure. Looking in his eyes, knowing in his heart, being at The Finals is what we’ve both dreamt of,” said Cavaliers guard Irving.
“Knowing the magnitude of the game and knowing the challenges that we face going into Game Three, we needed a full team effort, and he was there in spirit, and we just knew that we had to take care of business for him, and we did that.
“And going out and doing what we did in Game Three was definitely a valiant effort for him, and we dedicated that game to him.”
Love started 77 games for Cleveland in the regular season in which he averaged 16 points and 9.9 rebounds per game as the Cavaliers secured the Eastern Conference’s top playoff seed.
He participated in Thursday’s practice with the Cavs but has yet to be cleared to play in Friday’s Game Four.
“I know he’s eager to play, he wants to play, and we definitely need him back. We miss his rebounding. We miss his post presence. We miss his three-point shooting. So we definitely want him back, but he has to take the steps necessary to get himself back,” said Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue.
“We know it’s a tough time, being in the NBA Finals. It’s something you dreamed about your whole life, and having to deal with this is tough. But myself, my coaching staff, team mates, we all have his back and we wish him well and need him back.”
(Editing by Larry Fine)