fb-pixel Skip to main content
Gary Washburn | On Basketball

Kevin Love and Celtics might be a good match

Cavaliers forward Kevin Love did not play in Game 3 of the NBA Finals because of a concussion. Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

CLEVELAND — Kevin Love did not play in Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night because he remains in concussion protocol, and he might have played his last meaningful game with the Cleveland Cavaliers after they obliterated the Golden State Warriors, 120-90, without him.

So the question in Boston is whether the Celtics should make a play this summer to acquire Love when his stock is perhaps at the lowest of his career. If the Cavaliers are blown away in this series against the Golden State Warriors, and they lost the first two games by a total of 48 points, it’s a certainty management will shake up the roster.


Love, acquired by the Cavaliers to be a primary piece of their championship puzzle, has been a poor fit in his two seasons in Cleveland. Once considered the game’s premier rebounder — he once grabbed 31 in a game — Love has been reduced to a stretch power forward who is constantly exposed on defense.

It seems feasible for Cavaliers general manager David Griffin to look to unload the final four years and nearly $94 million on Love’s contract. That sounds like a boatload of money, but with the NBA’s salary cap on the rise, a $20-plus million contract won’t be considered outrageous for an All-Star-caliber player.

Love’s value in Cleveland would seem to be tepid at best. He appeared to be an outsider with last season’s club that reached the NBA Finals, and his season came to a crashing halt because of a shoulder injury after that infamous tangle with the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series.

In his eighth NBA season, Love averaged 16 points and 9.9 rebounds for the Cavaliers in 31 minutes per game. His best statistical year came in 2011-12 when he averaged 26 points 13.3 rebounds with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 39 minutes per contest.


Has Love lost some of his prowess? Or has his role in Cleveland limited his ability to rebound and score in the post? Would a change of scenery bring back the Minnesota Love, the player the Celtics became enamored with a few years ago?

It’s obvious the Celtics need to make a major splash this summer. And while president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will dutifully pursue Kevin Durant — with Legal Sea Foods pitching in with free crab legs for life, seriously — Ainge has to be more reasonable in his goals.

Love, at the very least, has to be a consideration, with the Celtics owning several first-round picks — valuable commodities — and a crowded backcourt that needs thinning. And it’s plausible that the Kevin Love in Boston, under the tutelage of Brad Stevens — who loves players who can stretch the floor — will be a better version than the one who stood near the 3-point line and waited for passes in Cleveland.

Early on in Game 3 Wednesday, it didn’t help his case to stay in Cleveland when the Cavaliers scored 33 points in the first quarter. The Cavaliers recorded 10 assists on their 15 field goals and shot 71.4 percent in jumping to a 17-point lead in a game they never trailed. They looked like the more confident and assertive team in the opening quarter, with Love still recovering from a concussion and 35-year-old Richard Jefferson in the starting lineup.


While the acquisition of Love seemed like a grand idea two years ago to give LeBron James some extra help in his title quest, Love has never been a suitable fit in their offense. And the Cavaliers’ Game 3 explosion will make it difficult for coach Tyronn Lue to place him back in the starting lineup if he’s cleared to play in the pivotal Game 4.

Without the responsibility of incorporating Love into the offense, the duo of James and Kyrie Irving combined for 51 shots — making 26 — as the Cleveland offense flourished with better ball movement and a combined 34 points from J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson.

Lue declined to reveal what he plans for Game 4 if Love is cleared to play, but he did offer this endorsement for Jefferson in the starting lineup.

“Putting Richard Jefferson in the starting lineup, I just think he gave us speed,” he said. “I thought he gave us the physicality on Harrison Barnes, and that we were able to slide LeBron over to Draymond Green, which helped us out a lot.”

Even if the Cavaliers played better because they were home, motivated, and desperate, the result does not shed a positive light on the impact of Love.

The Celtics made what was called a “low-ball” offer for Love before the trade deadline but two things have changed since February: 1) Love’s trade value will be considerably lower this summer, and 2) the Celtics will have more of a sense of urgency to make a major move with the Eastern Conference being open and those draft pick assets reaching a shelf life.


Ainge can’t hold on to these first-round picks for another couple of summers. It’s time for the Celtics to make a significant move to upgrade their roster. The team’s brass will have to examine whether Love is the right choice, but there might be no better time to pursue him and bank that Stevens, a new environment, and a new role will help resuscitate his career.

The Cleveland experiment has hardly been a success, and the Celtics could capitalize on the Cavaliers’ desire to appease James and upgrade their roster.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.