IN the lead up to the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers meeting in the NBA Finals for the third straight season I’ve decided to do a daily feature piece leading up to the epic seven game series. Legacies will be defined, reputations are on the line and the winner will claim bragging rights as the better team in this bitter, historic rivalry.

Day 1 – Steph Curry’s ‘Off Year’

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KEVIN Love was a fan favourite in Minnesota. For six years Love chalked up three All-Star appearances while averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Timberwolves. He was one of the premier power forwards in the competition chewing up rebounds at an unprecedented rate. So in August of 2014 when the Cavaliers manufactured a trade bring the UCLA product to Ohio it seemed like Love would form the missing piece in the Cavaliers ‘Big 3’ along with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James.

AS is the way when stars team up and form a three headed monster, someone has to sacrifice some shots and stats. In Miami when LeBron, Wade and Bosh joined forces the latter two (mainly Bosh) gave up some numbers. Ray Allen was the third fiddle when he and Kevin Garnett joined forces with Paul Pierce in Boston back in ’07. All signs pointed to Love being the candidate to slot into that role for the Cavaliers with LeBron and Kyrie both primary ball handlers. Although for the better part of two seasons, the Cavs struggled to find the right ‘role’ for him, using him primarily as an over qualified spot up shooter as the other two stars ran copious isolation plays and relied on their playmaking ability. Obviously as a result his scoring output dipped, but what was more of a concern was Love’s dip in his rebounding numbers. I know he was playing alongside great board bandits like LeBron and Tristan Thompson, but that shouldn’t have translated into Love putting up his worst rebounding numbers since his rookie year.

A large non factor in the last series against the Warriors, Love came up big for the team defensively when it mattered most though. Never known for his lockdown defense, he shut down Steph Curry as he tried to launch a potential game tying three with under a minute to to go in Game 7. However, his numbers weren’t great in that series averaging just 6.8 rebounds a game and 8.5 points. His Game 7 heroics (which included 14 rebounds along with his infamous defensive possession) overshadow how much he really did struggle against the Warriors. This year though things are entirely different. Love seems to have found his role and his niche with the Cavs which saw him average 19 points and 11 rebounds (with 41 double doubles in 60 games) all while missing a big chunk of the year with a knee complaint. It seems like Kevin Love’s rebounding numbers are a barometer of the teams success more so than his scoring output. In games where Love had a double digit rebounds the Cavs had a 31-12 record in the regular season coupled with 7-1 win-loss ledger in this years playoffs.

The Trilogy- Day 2 - Kevin Love- Cleveland's Secret Weapon 1Image from hoopshype.com

IN preparation for the Finals, Love is playing the best basketball he has ever played as a Cavalier coming off 22/12 averages against the Celtics and easily putting up the best numbers of his young playoff career. His rebounding more so than his ability to stretch the floor will be huge for his team in the series against the Warriors. If they can control the boards and in turn the tempo of the game that could go a long way into shaping the result of the series. Just today Love spoke to the media, pointing out how funny it is that the Cavaliers are underdogs considering they are defending THEIR title. If he keeps up his 2017 rebounding rate it will likely result in the Larry O’Brien trophy remaining theirs.

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