After an entire season of things not falling his way, LeBron James has caught not one, but two breaks. Hours before the NBA Finals tip off, Cleveland announced that Kevin Love had completed the NBA’s concussion protocol and is able to play in Game 1. Love went down in Game 6 against Boston, leaving LeBron to shoulder even more of the load. Golden State made its own injury announcement Wednesday: Andre Iguodala was ruled out for Game 1 with a leg contusion. He missed the final four games of the Western Conference Finals against Houston.
If Love is James’s shotgun passenger, Iguodala is his roadblock. The 34-year-old is the best defender Golden State can throw at LeBron, a tactic that traces back to the 2015 Finals against Cleveland and relied on the Death Lineup. (With the addition of Kevin Durant, it’s now the Hamptons Five, which is a less imposing name that would be better suited for five frat dudes on a road trip.) Without Iguodala in Game 1, the Warriors have to choose who to put on the King: Draymond, the team’s best help-side defender; Durant, the team’s greatest offensive weapon; or Kevon Looney, the team’s … uh … I’ll come back to this one. Looney has shown defensive vigor these playoffs, and because he carries a smaller burden on offense, the Warriors will most likely ride with the 22-year-old. (Though he could always get worked so badly that Steve Kerr will call an audible.)
Golden State’s already diminished defense will now also have to account for Love. Without him in Game 7, the Cavs turned to Jeff Green, who would be easy money for the Warriors. Cleveland took part in one of the postseason’s ugliest 3-point-shooting games to beat Boston—to be fair, the ugliest came a day later, when Golden State beat Houston to advance the Finals, though the Warriors wound up shooting 41 percent. Love’s return should help the Cavs in their perimeter attack.
Love wasn’t quite the answer in the prior Cleveland and Golden State Finals matchups, and his performance will have to rise as his responsibilities to the offense have.
Kevin Love returning is huge news for the Cavaliers, but he averaged only 11.9 points on 50.3 TS% and 45.2 eFG% in the 2016 + 2017 #NBAFinals. Love will of course be given more opportunity with Kyrie Irving gone and he needs to be much more efficient scoring than he was before. https://t.co/a4sJHLHhor— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) May 31, 2018
Still, Love and LeBron will be trying to go bucket-for-bucket against Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant. What Love offers offensively in stretching the floor and drawing defenders could easily be thrown away because of his poor defense. But Love is better than no Love, and without Iguodala hounding him, LeBron might have his best chance at stealing a game through the entire series.