Cavaliers, NBA blew handling of Kevin Love’s potential concussion

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Kevin Love got elbowed in the head. The Cavaliers say that didn’t cause them to suspect he suffered a concussion.

Love immediately grabbed his head in pain. The Cavaliers say that didn’t cause them to suspect he suffered a concussion.

Love fell to the floor and lay there for an extended period while still clutching his head. The Cavaliers say that didn’t cause them to suspect he suffered a concussion.

Love, according to Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue, “looked kind of woozy” in a later timeout. The Cavaliers say that didn’t cause them to suspect he suffered a concussion.

Take it in aggregate: Love got elbowed in the head, immediately grabbed his head in pain, fell to the floor, lay there for an extended period while still clutching his head and then, according to his own coach, “looked kind of woozy” in a later timeout.

No suspicion.

It’s unbelievably negligent or plain unbelievable.

Maybe Love was concussed. Maybe he wasn’t. That determination needn’t be made immediately after Harrison Barnes‘ elbow floored the Cleveland forward in the second quarter of Game 2 last night.

The first step is determining whether a player is suspected of having a concussion or shows any signs or symptoms of having one. Per the NBA’s concussion protocol:

If a player is suspected of having a concussion, or exhibits the signs or symptoms of concussion, he will be removed from participation and undergo evaluation by the medical staff in a quiet, distraction-free environment conducive to conducting a neurological evaluation.

Love remained in the court area, on the floor and on the bench, during the timeout followed his injury. That is not a “quiet, distraction-free environment conducive to conducting a neurological evaluation.”

Of course, the Cavs are incentivized not to suspect Love suffered a concussion. Even the suspicion would pull him from a crucial game for at least a few minutes.

This is a problem with sports culture and the NBA’s guidelines can’t magically fix it.

In fact, I don’t believe the guidelines go far enough to protect players. Anyone who requires testing for a concussion shouldn’t be permitted to return to play that day. Delayed symptoms are just too common. (The current rule bans only players diagnosed with a concussion from returning that day or the next.)

Unfortunately, that’d only further incentivize teams to ignore potential concussions. Players who should be at least tested could be ignored so as not to automatically end their game.

Yet, as lenient as the rules are now, Cleveland didn’t even follow them.

Lue said Love showed no symptoms at halftime – as if that’s highly meaningful. Love experiencing delayed symptoms is quite normal for a concussed person. That’s why continued monitoring is necessary after dangerous-looking hits to the head.

And Lue did continue to monitor.

Love started the second half, playing 1:55 until a timeout brought him back to Cleveland’s bench.

“I could see in a timeout he looked kind of woozy,” Lue said.

Lue left Love in the game, and Love played 11 more seconds before exiting for good. Thankfully, 11 seconds are a short window, and nothing catastrophic happened. But if he thought Love looked woozy, Lue should have immediately pulled Love from the game.

Why does all this matter? Dr. Ben Wedro of the DocTalk blog on MDDirect.org, addressed it last year when discussing a similar situation involving Klay Thompson:

“The concern is something called second-impact syndrome,” Wedro said. “And that says that, if you have a brain that is concussed and has not healed, it may not be able to protect itself against a second injury as well, and you can get swelling of the brain that spins out of control and people die. This is a rare situation. Some people believe it does not exist. Other people do. But that’s the concern – that if you stack concussions, that disaster can happen.”

There is no perfect method for preventing players from playing through concussions. Players can suffer concussions without getting hit in the head. If that happens, and he shows no immediate symptoms, how can you suspect to pull him from the game?

But removing someone who got elbowed in the head, immediately grabbed his head in pain, fell to the floor, lay there for an extended period while still clutching his head and then, according to his own coach, “looked kind of woozy” in a later timeout? That’s the bare minimum.

Love’s dizziness in the early third quarter sent him to the locker room, where he was finally given a proper assessment for a concussion. The Cavs then put him in the concussion protocol.

The Cavaliers say they handled this correctly. The NBA concurs.

I’m just curious what a player must do to arouse suspicion of a concussion if someone who got elbowed in the head, immediately grabbed his head in pain, fell to the floor, lay there for an extended period while still clutching his head and then, according to his own coach, “looked kind of woozy” in a later timeout doesn’t qualify.