From a 33-point Warriors win to a 30-point Cavaliers win, this was the largest game-to-game swing in NBA Finals history.
It’s more complex than this, but the answer that will get the most attention: Kevin Love.
The Cavs forward missed Game 3 with a potential concussion, and Richard Jefferson started in his place. Cleveland’s new starting lineup outscored Golden State by 17 points in 22 minutes.
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had an interesting exchange in his post-game press conference:
- Reporter: “Coach, if Kevin is able to go in Game 4, how would you expect to use him?”
- Lue: “Do I have to tell you.”
- Reporter: “That’s up to you.”
- Lue: “I’m not going to tell you.”
I don’t know what Lue will do, but he had an opportunity to affirm his faith in Love, to tell the world – and Love – that an injury wouldn’t cost him his starting position. He passed.
And that’s fine. I’d start Jefferson in Game 4 regardless of Love’s status. Love is still a very good player, but the Warriors expose his biggest weakness – pick-and-roll defense on the perimeter. He is just lost in this matchup. There are probably still minutes for him in this series against certain lineups, but that’s easier to manage with Love coming off the bench.
But Lue should realize what his answer risks. The Cavs have put Love through so many mentally hurdles, and this another. He now must endure days of people unwilling to see the nuance of a good player not being helpful in every situation. Many will say Cleveland’s turnaround without him proves he harms the team, period. That might be true in this one specific matchup, but Love also helped the Cavaliers cruise through the regular season and Eastern Conference playoffs. He’s still good overall.
Is he still a starter? Lue isn’t saying, and perhaps he hasn’t yet made up his mind. If he has, Lue is probably just trying to give his team a competitive advantage, giving Golden State more to consider.
I don’t think that will work, though. The Warriors already know how to thrash Cleveland with Love on the floor. If I were them, I’d spend all my time thinking how to counter the Cavs’ Game 3 starting lineup. That unit actually caused problems.