His frustration was visible
These Cavaliers are a far cry from the teams Kevin Love played on when he first arrived in Cleveland. The Cavs, though they’ve already won more games than in any year since LeBron James’s (second) departure, stink. They’re 21–40, good for 13th place in the East.
An already lackluster roster was even more depleted for Monday’s game against the Raptors. Taurean Prince is out for the season due to an ankle injury that will require surgery. Larry Nance Jr. has a broken thumb that might keep him out for the final three weeks of the season. Matthew Dellavedova has a neck strain and three players—Isaiah Hartenstein, Lamar Stevens and leading scorer Collin Sexton—have concussions.
So it’s not a surprise that Cleveland entered the game as a double-digit underdog. Still, the Cavs trailed by just four with 45 seconds left in the third. But by the end of the quarter, thanks in large part to a terrible play by Love, they were down 11.
After Love allowed an easy layup to Malachi Flynn, he went to inbound the ball and inexplicably swatted it straight to Toronto’s Stanley Johnson.
The blunder led to an easy three for Flynn. A Brodric Thomas turnover and a foul by Love led to two more points before the end of the quarter. The Cavs went on to lose, 112–96.
It’s a surprise to see a veteran like Love lose his head like that, and head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said he wasn’t sure what Love was thinking.
“You’ll have to ask Kevin,” Bickerstaff told reporters. “We talked about it. He apologized to his teammates for it and we’ll move on.”
Yahoo’s Chris Hayne’s reports that the team is addressing Love’s behavior internally and “is focused on turning the page.”
The entire sequence at the end of the quarter looked like Love’s frustration boiling over. And why wouldn’t he be frustrated? He was brought in as a major piece of a championship contender and went to four straight NBA Finals, but the years since LeBron left have seen an injury-plagued Love toil for one of the worst teams in the NBA. A toe injury limited him to 22 games in the 2018–19 season and he sat out the vast majority of the first three months of this season with a calf strain. He said that his recovery process wore on him mentally.
“I don’t want to speak hyperbole or take it over the top, but this is probably the most mentally taxing—not the most physically taxing injury—but the most mentally taxing for me for sure,” Love said after his third game of the season in mid-March. “It was really a struggle ’cause it’s who I am. I’m a basketball player first and foremost and I’ve loved this game for so long. Just playing basketball, that’s what I love to do. It’s so much a part of me. When you have it taken away from you and you feel like there’s not much you can do after working so damn hard, that can be really disheartening and a tough hurdle to overcome.
“It was just really mentally frying. I got so f------ sick of riding the bike and doing the VersaClimber. There’s never been a time in my life where I’ve wanted to run sprints more than like two, three weeks ago.”
And what was Love’s reward for working his way back? To play for a team that has gone 4–10 since his full-time return to the court. He’s averaging just 13.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game during that stretch, well below his stats in his first two post-LeBron seasons. So yeah, his frustration seems pretty reasonable.
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