After three quarters of play during Friday night’s matchup in Orlando, the Cavaliers trailed the Magic by four points.
Cleveland has gotten off to a slower than expected start to the season, while Orlando was eight games under .500 coming into the contest. It would have been a bad loss for the Cavaliers, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that head coach David Blatt was willing to try anything to prevent it — even if that meant benching one of his star players.
Kevin Love didn’t register a single fourth quarter minute, with Blatt instead preferring to go small in order to better match up with Orlando’s lineup. It worked to perfection; the Cavs held their opponent to just 14 points in the final period (LeBron James scored 15 in that final 12 minutes himself) and came away with a much needed victory.
“The way that Orlando was playing, they didn’t make a particular substitution and we were just matched up so well defensively, we decided to not to go with it,” Blatt said about not putting Love in the game. “Certainly to Kevin’s credit, he actually kind of recognized it and supported that.”
It’s not accurate to say Love never left the bench in the final quarter. He was one of the most supportive players as he stood up repeatedly, clapping and cheering his teammates on. And vocally, he screamed more than when he was playing. …
“It’s all about the matchup,” Love said. “Had it been different, it might have been a tough pill to swallow. Tristan was doing a phenomenal job on [Nikola] Vucevic, forcing him into tough shots and blocking shots. It was really how they matched up. They went small. It wasn’t hard for me at all. I was up pretty much every play I could be.”
It’s big for the Cavaliers that this strategy not only worked out in terms of the team getting the win, but that Love was fully on board and remained engaged while being relegated to the bench.
Love is going to opt out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, if nothing more than to give himself a raise. But the fact is that he could choose to leave if he feels his role is diminished as the season goes on, and there’s no question that Blatt rolled the dice a bit here, without fully knowing that the strategy would pay off, or how Love would handle the situation on the sidelines.