LeBron James has never endured a first-round exit during his 15-year career, and now he’s left hoping that his All-Star sidekick can help him keep that streak alive.
The Pacers blew out the Cavaliers 121-87 in Game 6 on Friday, evening the first-round series and forcing a Game 7 on Sunday. With the contest so far out of reach, James sat out the entire fourth quarter, finishing with 22 points, five rebounds and seven assists in 31 minutes. Afterward, he told reporters that Kevin Love, who has been struggling throughout the first-round series, would be a crucial X-factor in Game 7.
“He’s a huge part of our success or our non-success,” James said of Love. “We try to go to him, we want to go to him. We can’t make the shots for him. He has to step up and knock those down.”
Love scored seven points and shot just 3-10 in Game 6, once again failing to find an offensive rhythm. Despite the departures of Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas, Love hasn’t been able to emerge as a true secondary scorer alongside James during the playoffs.
Against Indiana, Love has yet to score 20 points in a game, and his 11 PPG, 32.4 FG% and 37 3P% all represent postseason career lows. What’s more, Cleveland has been outscored by 13 points in his 197 minutes on the court, giving him a negative plus-minus for the first time in his playoff career. The five-time All-Star’s scoring, shooting and overall impact numbers are also well off his regular-season averages.
- Love in 2017 postseason: 16.8 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 43.6 FG%, 45 3P%, +8.2
- Love in 2017-18 season: 17.6 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 45.8 FG%, 41.5 3P%
- Love in 2018 postseason: 11 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 32.4 FG%, 37 3P%, minus-2.2
Cleveland simply isn’t in position to get by without significant offensive contributions from the versatile big man. Through Friday, Cleveland’s 93.2 PPG ranked dead last among the 16 playoff teams and its 100.6 offensive rating ranked 15th.
“We have to continue to let [Love] know how important he is to our success,” James said. “If we want to have any success in a Game 7 or to move on to the next round, Kev has to be a big part of that.”
ESPN.com reported that Love suffered a partially torn ligament in his left (non-shooting) thumb during Game 2. While Love has not missed a game, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said that the injury, coupled with Love’s demanding defensive responsibilities, could be contributing to his limited scoring output. Love is averaging 32.8 MPG, the largest postseason workload of his Cavaliers tenure.
“Offensively he hasn’t scored the ball as good as he’s capable of scoring,” Lue said. “It could be the thumb. A lot of it could be fatigue. He’s running around blitzing Oladipo at half-court, then sprinting back to get into the possession. It could be multiple things. We’ve just got to play better.”
Sunday will mark the seventh Game 7 of James’s career. He’s 4-2 in previous Game 7s, and hasn’t lost one since 2008, when the Cavaliers fell to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. James has averaged 32.7 PPG, 10.3 RPG and 7.8 APG against Indiana, leading Cleveland in all three categories.