Crunch Time Break Down: What’s Kevin Love so Mad About?

Yesterday was a tumultuous day for Kevin Love. Subject to trade rumors since at least Dec. 6th, Love has grown increasingly frustrated recently with his status on the Cleveland Cavaliers. For background, Love signed a 4 year, $120 extension in the wake of of LeBron departing Cleveland in the summer of 2018. That extension started this year and will carry out through the spring of 2023. He inked that deal with the understanding that the Cavaliers were going to try to continue to field a competitive team, capable of reaching the playoffs. This notion didn’t come out of thin air, but rather from the statements that were made to him by General Manager Koby Altman.

Obviously, that hasn’t happened whatsoever. A little over a year later the Cavs are now 10-25 and look like a top-half lottery team for the second year in a row, and are still in the beginning stages of a complete rebuild. As such, Love is the subject of continual trade rumors and even though he hasn’t formally asked for a trade, would likely welcome one. How do I know this? Well for one, there are reports that say so. But also, things appear to be hitting a boiling point between Love, his teammates and the Cavaliers’ staff.

Saturday afternoon following shoot-around, Love had an emotional “outburst” that was directed at Altman. One of his claims during that outburst was that the Cavs have “no feel”. Further, in the waning seconds of the 2nd quarter in Saturday night’s contest vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder Love appeared visibly frustrated and threw up his hands at ball-handling guard Collin Sexton mid-play. Love stood in front of him until Sexton passed him the ball. This led to Love firing a pass to forward Cedi Osman (who ended up being fouled on a 3 point attempt).

Bad body language, outbursts, a desire to be traded, and alleged complaints about head coach John Beilein. Love doesn’t sounds like a good teammate right now.

I think his frustration to a point is understandable though. The sticking point is the actual on the court actions of himself and his teammates. All that I laid out above is obvious. Its’ all macro-level considerations of the situation that Love finds himself in. If you take a look at the nuts and bolts of a game situation that Love finds himself in though, it could be perceived as pretty maddening.

I’ll provide an example. I will call this a “crunch time break down”. I might do more of these in the future, where I lay out a close game and explain what I saw as an avid basketball fan. Forgive me. Its going to be wordy. I could just as easily throw up a video and say “see for yourself”, but there are specific points I want to lay out. Without further delay:

This past Thursday night the Cavaliers took on the Charlotte Hornets from Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse (gag).

With about 5 minutes left in the game the Cavaliers led 100-93 and Love, forward Cedi Osman and center Tristan Thompson have all just re-entered the game after rest. The following possessions occur (this is going to be fairly Love-centric, but I plan to be even-handed):

Right off the free throws that allowed the trio to come into the game Love received the ball in the post and travels. Its his only turnover of the night, the Cavaliers had 14 as a team. 4:58 remains in the game. Cavs still by 7.

Charlotte point guard Terry Rozier makes a three and Charlotte now trails by 4. On the next Cavs’ possession the ball never leaves Sexton’s hands. He drives into the crowded paint and puts up a contested layup with 3 seconds left on the shot clock. He held the ball for the entire 21 seconds. Not only is it a miss, Love is open at the 3 point line. 4:13 remains. Cavs lead 100-96.

Charlotte forward PJ Washington’s layup makes it a 2 point game. On the Cavs possession they run a set play. After the ball comes up the forecourt, Love receives the ball at the top of the key and immediately gives it up on a dribble hand-off to wingman Kevin Porter Jr. Porter dribbles around the perimeter into traffic and takes a bad contested layup. The shot is no good. Love isn’t as open this time, but is still uncovered on the left wing. Osman and Sexton are also open on the left side of the floor. Two bad, contested layups in a row. Cavs lead 100-98. 3:27 remains.

Porter putting it up, surrounded by 3 Hornets. Love, Osman and Sexton, all open to his left.

On the ensuing Charlotte possession Rozier comes right down the floor off the rebound, and receives a screen from center Bismack Biyombo. Love had been guarding Biyombo and shows hard on Rozier. To Rozier’s credit and the slow-footed Love’s detriment, Rozier crosses Love, who fails to impede his progress. Porter was Rozier’s man, but he went over the top of screen and now can’t recover since Love failed to keep Rozier in front. This means the man guarding the weak-side corner- Osman, should come to help. He doesn’t. Tie game. 3:16 left. Cavs call timeout.

Love tries to keep Rozier in front
Love is too slow. Osman appears ready to help.
Osman is still standing there. Easy layup.

Coming out of the timeout Beilein draws up a play for Love off of a Thompson off-ball screen at the top of the key. Love takes an open three in rhythm but misses. 3:06 left. Still tied at 100.

Charlotte guard Devonte Graham throws a pass into the stands and the Cavs get the ball back. A Darius Garland-Love screen and pop leads to penetration by Garland down the right side of the lane. Garland kicks to Sexton in the left corner. 3 ball… got it! This is the best play you will see throughout this entire exercise. Cavs lead 103-100. 2:30 left.

Hornets come right back down and Graham answers with a 3 of his own. We are tied again. The ensuing Cavs possession has Garland bring the ball up the floor on the right side of the key. Osman comes out, slips a screen and dashes to the left wing behind the 3 line. Osman briefly flashes open but by the time he receives the pass and puts up the shot he is contested. 1 pass was made, the shot was contested, Love never touched the ball and 11 seconds were on the shot clock when Osman hoisted. Bad possession. Still tied. 1:58 remains.

Look who is open on the other side of the floor.

Sexton plays sparkling defense that leads to a Garland steal of Rozier. Garland is fouled in the open floor which leads to a review to check for a clear path foul and an unofficial timeout. No clear path foul occurred, but its Cavs’ ball and we are still tied.

Beilein uses the extra time to draw up a set play for Love coming off another screen. He takes a good shot, but misses the three pointer at the top of the key. We are still tied and there’s 1:30 left.

More good team defense in crunch time leads to a missed three by Rozier. We are really getting into crunch time now as Thompson pulls down the rebound and gets it to Garland as we get under the minute mark. Garland and Love run screen and pop again. It looks a lot like the play Sexton made a 3 on instead this time Garland takes a layup in traffic with 7 seconds still on the shot clock. Biyombo should be guarding Love at the 3 point line but he has completely abandoned his post and has come down to the key to help on the drive and ensure he retrieves the rebound. This is the most open Love has been yet, naked on the left wing at the 3 point line. We are still tied and 45 seconds remain.

Love is barely in frame, but open. Osman is open too.

On their possession Charlotte runs a screen slip that leads to a bad, contested three that Graham makes even though he had no business taking it. Basketball-reference.com describes it as a “36-footer”. I give credit to Sexton for contesting. 106-103 Charlotte. 23 ticks remain.

Beilein calls timeout and the Cavs inbound at half court. Austin Carr directly says on the broadcast “You can (afford to) go to your second or third option here and get a 3 point shot.”. John Michael makes mention that a quick 2 pointer wouldn’t be bad either. We either want to work for a 3 pointer to tie or find a quick, easy 2 pointer and allow time to still come back.

Love comes to the ball at the left wing and receives the inbound. Its a screen hand-off to Sexton at the top of the key. Sexton’s initial drive is shut down, but he tries again and dribbles into the paint. Biyombo completely leaves Love this time. You can see it down below. He knows there is absolutely no chance Sexton is going to pass the ball back out. Its another missed layup in traffic. The Cavs were down 3, Sexton took 8 seconds and only got a contested layup out of the possession. That was neither a couple passes that led to a three, nor a quick, easy 2 pointer.

Biyombo pulls down the rebound because he has nothing better to be doing; the Cavs foul twice and send Graham to the line. He makes both and Charlotte leads 108-103. 9 seconds remain. Looks like checkmate.

Beilein calls his last timeout and the Cavs take the ball out from half-court again. This time the play is a direct pass to Love in the post off the inbound. Instead of guarding Love, Biyombo is guarding Osman, but hedges inside to help on Love. Love actually notices and fires the ball out to the perimeter to Osman. 3 ball… got it! Holy cow! Someone passed to an open player, and a shot was made?! The Cavs still trail by 2 and there’s only 4 seconds left.

Actual court vision.
Cedi for 3!

The Cavs foul again and the door kinda, sorta swings open. Rozier misses one of two free throws and its a 3 point game again, but the Cavs are out of timeouts and have to inbound in the back-court. Sexton gets freed up 40 feet from the rim and fires a decent looking shot, but its no good at the buzzer. Love comes over and rubs Sexton’s shoulders. I’m not a lip-reader, but he appears to tell him “good shot!”. The Cavs lose by 2 after leading by as many as 10 in the fourth quarter.

So what do we have here? 11 possessions in the final 5 minutes for the Cavaliers. Love touched the ball on 6 of them but two of those were quick give-ups for a dribble hand-off and a screen hand-off. Three different times he was left wide open on the perimeter and four different times a young Cavaliers’ ball-handler took a bad, contested layup at the rim. That’s just as many attempts as legitimate touches that Love got in the final five minutes.

I would be frustrated too. I am not saying that Love should be taking every shot down the stretch of a close game. Absolutely not. But at the same time, each possession that didn’t involve him was absolutely poor. The only one where he didn’t touch the ball and it went well was Sexton’s corner three. Yes, Love missed 2 threes of his own. They were good, open shots. They weren’t contested layups with two or more defenders draped over the shooter while the best player on the team stood wide-open for three. That’s how you lose games. That’s not how you build any type of winning culture. That’s the type of thing that leads to this:

A good friend of mine texted me and said he thinks Sexton lost track of the shot clock. Could be, but it seems more like Sexton just doesn’t have any real vision. He isn’t really a ball-handler. He couldn’t see Love standing near the paint with the 6 foot tall Chris Paul on him. Love literally has 9 inches on him! I think that’s what Love might have meant on Saturday when he blew up at Altman and said the Cavs have “no feel”. These young guys have no feel for how to operate a professional level offense. What is Coach Beilein teaching these guys anyway? The crazy part is that with the shot clock running down, Love found a half decent look for Osman for three, and they got foul shots out of it. That would not have occurred unless Love did what he did.

Yes, Love is being surly, but I think he has good reason. Quite genuinely, if placed in this position I think a certain former Cavaliers’ star would act very similarly as well. In fact, this on-court attitude is somewhat reminiscent of LeBron taking himself out of plays while Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters fought over the ball in 2014, or the month long pout-job he did in January of 2018 to force Altman to re-form the Cavs roster at the trade deadline.

I don’t think Love means anything ill by what he is doing, but he is frustrated. I can’t blame him for that. Unfortunately for him, he might have to ride out the storm for this season. A Love trade still seems like a rigorous endeavor at this point.

More on that to come…

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