BOSTON — Many Celtics fans desperately wanted Kevin Love to be traded to Boston before he was dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014.
After Love’s incredible performance in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals at TD Garden on Wednesday night, Boston fans got a strong reminder of why they coveted him so highly.
Love poured in 32 points, including 18 in the third quarter, to help lead the Cavs to a 117-104 win in the series opener. In fact, Love is the first Cleveland player not named LeBron James to score 30-plus points with 10-plus rebounds in a playoff game since Brad Daugherty in 1992.
“For me, I saw that in Kev (Wednesday) morning,” James said. “I knew what type of game he was going to have. He came through for us. We want the mentality of Kevin from Minnesota, but his usage rate doesn’t have to be as high as Minnesota. … But his mentality needs to stay the same as Minnesota, and I think as he continues to get even more comfortable — (Wednesday night) was one of those instances where every time he got the ball, it was a small guarding him or somebody in the post.
“He was aggressive. He grabbed every rebound for the most part with him and Tristan (Thompson) in the paint. And he was very aggressive with his shot. He also got to the free throw line (nine) times.”
Love shot 6-for-9 from 3-point range, but he didn’t face much resistance on those attempts. Seven of them were uncontested, and he converted on five. James drew much attention from the Celtics’ defense, including many double teams, and he found Love a few times for open looks from beyond the arc.
Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving is the No. 2 option on offense next to James. He’s capable of scoring 30 points on any night. But he didn’t get off to a good start in Game 1 and finished with just 11 points. Cleveland needed their other star to step up, and Love delivered.
“Just knowing him over the last three years, when it starts inside out, that’s when his three ball gets to working,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “LeBron has been playing so well that we really haven’t had a chance to really feature Kevin. But we’ve been talking, and he’s been ready, and (Wednesday night) was a huge performance from him.
“We needed that. And then he was also really good defensively. On the boards, making shots, posting up. We needed that big performance from Kevin.”
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images