In the 4th quarter and overtime of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 128-125 victory over the San Antonio Spurs this past week, Kevin Love was nowhere to be seen on the basketball court. He was just chilling on the bench not doing anything productive. If he had ordered a coke and a hot dog and headed for the showers, head coach David Blatt probably wouldn’t have noticed, and he certainly wouldn’t have cared.
The reason for Love’s benching is obviously due to the fact that he isn’t a great defensive player and David Blatt wants defense at the end of games. On paper, Blatt’s reasoning sounds logical and agreeable: Kevin Love doesn’t play defense; defense wins basketball games; basketball games are won in the fourth quarter; therefore, Kevin Love sits in the 4th quarter.
There is one important fact that gets ignored in this argument and that fact is that the Cleveland Cavaliers are paying Kevin Love $16.74M this season. When was the last time you heard of a player getting paid $16.74M while simultaneously not get used in the 4th quarter? I can’t think of anybody. Kevin Love is one of the Cavaliers’ money players and as a rule of thumb, you have to play your money players in crunch time because that’s why they are getting paid that amount of money.
Whether David Blatt likes it or not, the Cavaliers’ front office is paying Kevin Love to help them win a championship, which going back to the last argument, implies he needs to be playing in the 4th quarter. If Blatt isn’t going to be playing Kevin Love in the 4th quarter, then he might as well tell Kevin Love to pack his bags in free agency, because there is no way Kevin Love comes back to a team that doesn’t utilize his services at the end of games.
Last season, Kevin Love averaged 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per game on the Timberwolves. I don’t care if the Timberwolves were bad. Kevin Love put those numbers up against other NBA players, which means that Kevin Love is a damn good basketball player that can be utilized as a weapon during crunch time. There is no way anybody can convince me that the Cavaliers are better off with Kevin Love on the bench in the 4th quarter than they are with him on the floor. He can bring a terrific scoring threat and a tenacious rebounding presence to the floor that outweighs any deficiencies he has on defense.
Sometimes coaches can over-think things and not using Love in the 4th quarter to gain a defensive edge appears to be an example of a coach over-thinking. Blatt is doing something that one can convince themselves to do only after doing too much thinking. On its face, it seems absurd to not use Kevin Love in the 4th quarter because it is in fact absurd. Kevin Love is one of the league’s most talented big men and he needs to be utilized in the 4th quarter. If your scheme doesn’t work well with his talents, maybe you need a new scheme because Kevin Love, last I checked, is one of the Top 25 basketball players on the planet.
In conclusion, David Blatt needs to find a way to use Kevin Love in the 4th quarter of basketball games. I know that Love doesn’t get benched in the 4th quarter all the time, but it happens enough that it’s alarming. What’s alarming is the thought of Kevin Love getting benched in the 4th quarter of a Game 7 in the playoffs, and what’s even more alarming, is that it looks like that could very well happen.
The Cavaliers have improved tremendously over the course of the season, but the one weakness they have is their inability to properly integrate Kevin Love into their fold. He’s an elite player who is getting paid like an like an elite player. It’s time the Cavaliers treat him like one and play to his strengths as opposed to using him as a “stretch four” who is incapable of being on the floor at the end of games.
—Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord