LeBron on struggling Love: 'He has to step up'

Colton Jones

Staring first-round elimination from the playoffs right in the face, LeBron James delivered a clear message to Kevin Love after a humiliating 121-87 loss by the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 on Friday night.

Love, a five-time All-Star, has struggled mightily in this series, averaging 11 points, 9.8 rebounds and shooting an abysmal 32.4 percent from the field against the Pacers. All of which have come while playing the most minutes (32.8) per game in his playoff career.

“He’s a huge part of our success or our non-success,” James said of the guy who is supposed to be his sidekick, with Kyrie Irving now in Boston. “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 is playing with a partially torn ligament in his left thumb, an injury suffered in Game 2. In the 197 minutes he has played in the first six games, the Cavaliers have been outscored by 13 points. It marks the first time in his four playoff seasons in Cleveland Love has a negative plus-minus rating.

His struggles offensively are the biggest reason the Cavaliers rank at the bottom of the 16 playoff teams, averaging 93.2 points per game, and 15th of 16 teams with an offensive rating of 100.6.

"It's not me but it's not about me, either," Love said. "I've done a lot of other good things. I know you guys will talk about the offense, but I just got to find a way to impact the game in different ways."

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said it's a combination of factors that are teaming to result in Love's being so ineffective, including defense. Indiana is constantly putting him in pick-and-roll situations using his fan to set screens for All-Star Victor Oladipo.

With Lue using blitzes in an effort to combat Oladipo, Love is spending a lot of energy double-teaming him on that end of the floor.

“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 halfcourt, then sprinting back to get into the possession.

"It could be multiple things. We’ve just got to play better.”

Despite not playing at his normal level in this series, Love realizes all could be forgotten if he rises to the occasion Sunday and the Cavaliers advance.

"Game 7, home floor... this is it," he said. "We love these type of moments. Game 7, at home... winner takes all and advances. It's going to be an awesome game."

James, who is averaging 32.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game in the series, made it clear, he needs his fellow All-Star.

“We have to continue to let him 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.”