How Kevin Love has been so efficient against Pacers
By Tom West
The bulk of efficiency comes down to how a player performs individually and picks their shots, but certain favorable matchups will help players be more effective. Kevin Love’s performance thus far against the Indiana Pacers is an example of this.
The Pacers have struggled containing Love through two games as the Cleveland Cavaliers have jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Thaddeus Young is mobile enough to cover Love on the perimeter, but he still has a hard time keeping up with the Cavaliers’ ball movement when they find their rhythm and ping passes all around the court. That’s on the Pacers’ defense as a whole.
Myles Turner is agile, although he’s often concerned with handling Tristan Thompson’s physicality and rebounding inside (something else that’s been an issue for Indiana, and Turner needs to get a lot stronger).
Then there’s Kevin Seraphin, the Pacers’ main backup big in this series who doesn’t have the kind of speed to keep up with the Cavaliers when he’s forced to switch inside and out, giving Love more time and space to fire from beyond the arc.
Put all this together, plus some poor defensive strategy when it comes to switching and some hot shooting from Love, and he’s recorded 22 points per game on 68.8 percent shooting in his first two outings. In total, he has 44 points on a mere 16 field goal attempts. That’s tremendous efficiency.
And, of course, what he did in Game 2 with 27 points on 6-of-7 shooting to go along with a perfect 12-of-12 mark from the free throw line is the highlight:
To put the insane efficiency of his 27-point performance into perspective, here’s where it stands in NBA history:
Only four other players — Adrian Dantley (1983), John Stockton (1991), Chauncey Billups (2006) and Gordon Hayward (2016) — have ever recorded 27+ points in a game with seven or fewer field goal attempts.
Only one player has ever recorded 27+ points with seven or fewer field goal attempts in the playoffs…That would be Kevin Love.
First off, the Cavaliers helped make this possible by the way they free up Love at the 3-point line. A lot of the time, it’s the sheer gravity of a nifty Kyrie Irving drive or LeBron James barreling inside that pulls the opposing defense in enough to free up space at the arc. If you add in the threat of Thompson grabbing an offensive rebound, as you can see here, then all that interior attention and Thaddeus Young dropping inside to focus on Irving gives Love easy opportunities to bury shots from distance:
Here, the Cavaliers don’t even do anything complicated. Kyle Korver holds his own to screen two Pacers, which holds up the slower Seraphin just enough to give Love a quick window to shoot a 3:
The Cavaliers can just get guys open. For all the pitiful defensive struggles they’ve had over the last few months, their offense has still been elite. Having Love at center (as he was in the possession above) surrounded by four other shooters is going to give slower bigs trouble when they have to keep defending him outside, while lineups that feature the frontcourt duo of Love and Channing Frye can create constant headaches, too. Unfortunately for the Pacers, they don’t have the defense or offensive firepower to overcome it all.
More so than just 3s, though, which accounted for half of Love’s six made field goals in Game 2, it’s how the Pacers have defended him inside which has given them so many problems.
Love’s 12 free throws were made possible by the Cavaliers giving him more opportunities to go to work in the post, something that too many people seem to forget he can do.
Including the Pacers, apparently.
Far too often, Lance Stephenson was placed on Love in the post:
When Love wasn’t burying his hook shots with ease, he was drawing fouls instead. Such physical mismatches meant he had his way against the Pacers’ interior defense, going on a tear late in the third quarter with a flurry of three throws.
The Pacers tried using Stephenson’s strength against Love, and…it really didn’t work. The Cavaliers constantly looked for Love early in possessions as he terrorized from the post down the stretch in the third quarter, drawing a bunch of fouls as he’s always been capable of when given the chance; he averaged 7.8 free throws per game during his four best years in Minnesota and upped his attempts to 4.9 this season to reach his highest mark since coming to Cleveland.
When he’s against the much smaller Stephenson, it’s too easy:
Take a look at these post-up scores from Game 1 as well. Yet again, Love had an easy time finishing over the likes of Jeff Teague and Stephenson when he received favorable switches off pick-and-rolls or in transition when he moved to the low block to receive quick entry passes:
Love has been essential in helping power the Cavaliers’ elite offensive attack, which has made up for the continued shoddy defense on the way to the 2-0 lead. It’s easy to see Love giving the Pacers more problems, especially if they can’t keep up with him on the perimeter and make his life easy in the post by putting guards on him too often. You’d think the Pacers won’t be stupid enough to try using Stephenson on him again, but if the Cavaliers seek out switches effectively enough, they can let Love have his way regardless. He doesn’t need to shoot 6-of-7 for 27 points every night to be a major factor. Using him to draw fouls, get under the Pacers’ skin and create scoring in the paint are great assets to have.
Kevin Love has continued a resurgent, All-Star year into the start of the playoffs after recording his best scoring (19 points per game) and rebounding (11.1) numbers in three years with the third-best true shooting percentage (57.3) of his career this season. And as long as the Cavaliers are relying so heavily on offense to carry them forward, they’ll need plenty more from him.