In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, there were a number of moments captured by the cameras that showed LeBron James dealing with exhaustion. His body language in the contest was akin to a man who just ran a marathon – right after completing 100 burpees.
Often compared to a robot, LeBron James is starting to look like a human.
It’s not a good time for the Cleveland Cavaliers to have its one true hope to advance to the NBA Finals dealing with fatigue, but it’s not shocking to see LeBron bending over forward with his hands on his knees and summoning all his power just to get down on the court either. He’s been doing a herculean task of carrying a Cavs team that went through a topsy-turvy regular season, in which he was the only consistent performer, and into the playoffs where anyone not named LeBron James has spent games letting the team down.
This includes Kevin Love. The 29-year-old big man is unquestionably the best player outside of James in the playoffs, but he’s also among the most infuriating Cavs players. That is despite the fact that he’s been averaging a double-double of 14.8 points and 10.4 rebounds in the postseason.
Love is not on the same level of disappointment as that of J.R. Smith or Rodney Hood, which are many rungs lower, but there have been games in the playoffs where he put up lackadaisical offensive performances that necessitated comparison to the aforementioned pair of seemingly inept Cavaliers.
Back in the first round against the Indiana Pacers, Love had three single-digit scoring games. Right in the playoffs opener, he finished with only nine points on 3-for-8 shooting from the field (all buckets were from behind the arc) in 34 minutes on the floor of a loss.
After scoring 15 and 19 points in Games 2 and 3, Love crawled back inside his shell in Game 4, churning out a paltry total of five points on an atrocious 2-for-10 shooting.
Here is Love at one moment during the game trying his best to convince the Cavs to trade him in the offseason.
Kevin Love got swatted, ripped, spit on, chewed up, demoralized, dehumanized, ridiculed, demolished, sonned, bodied, and straight up thoroughly dominated pic.twitter.com/FK9pisoFFP
— #Mickstape (Playoffs) (@MickstapeShow) April 23, 2018
That was the kind of performance Love actually had just after saying that the Cavs “have to win” that contest.
“I think the ‘want’ is definitely there,” Kevin Love said. “I don’t even think you’d be asking that question had we won the game last night. … I thought we were very spirited in that first half, we were very aggressive. … If tomorrow goes our way, we even up the series, then we’re right back at it. We have to win this one tomorrow.”
Love followed up that forgettable outing with a worse shooting night, going 2-for-11 before finishing with 11 points thanks to six trips to the foul line. At this point, Cavs fans were close to showing up on Love’s doorstep with torches and pitchforks in their hands.
Ironically, Cleveland won both Games 4 and 5 of that series because… well, they had LeBron James. Though, that version of James was far from the uber exhausted being he looked like on Wednesday against the Celtics.
Love finished the first round with averages of 11.4 points and 9.3 rebounds, which were respectable, but he did shoot 33.3 percent from the field. As for LeBron, he averaged 34.4 points on 55.3 percent shooting.
Love recovered in the second round against the Toronto Raptors. In four games opposite the Raps, Love atoned himself by averaging 20.5 points on 47.5 percent shooting and 11.5 rebounds. LeBron was in the headlines after each of those four wins against Toronto, but Love deserved tremendous credit as well.
Then again, the Raptors were already dead in the water in the eyes of many even before the series started. They were mere sacrificial lambs to the Cavs, whom they have proven time and time again that they could not beat in the playoffs and lose to with their collective dignity still intact afterward.
In other words, if there’s a series in these playoffs that could make Love look like the All-Star that he is, then it was the one against Toronto.
Unfortunately for the Cavs, Boston is not the Raptors. The Celtics are not one to lay their weapons down and give Cleveland a free pass to the NBA Finals just like they did a year ago in the same round. Confronted by a team that has zero of the fear Toronto had against the Cavs, Love seems to be floundering again. Save for Game 2 of the conference finals, wherein he scored 22 points on 9-for-18 shooting, Love has shot just 35.3 percent from the field in the other four games.
The idea that LeBron is gassed and running on fumes is largely a product of him leading the entire league in minutes in the regular season. Back then, LeBron averaged 36.9 minutes per game. You could take a look at the list of the top 20 players in terms of minutes played per contest and you would not find a single one besides LeBron who is older than 30.
LeBron is 33 and he just logged in a total of 3,026 minutes spread out over 82 games in his 15th season in the league. It’s not just to show off the effective ability of his spending over a million dollars every year to keep his body in shape. It’s a necessity.
James had to spend that many minutes on the floor and assume the burden of orchestrating the offense, scoring points, and rebounding. Granted that he’s not an elite one-on-one defender this season, he’s a body the Cavs could put on all five opposing positions.
Going back to Game 5 against the Celtics, LeBron scored 26 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in 39 minutes. Those numbers were not enough to pull the Cavs to a win as much as his 42-point triple-double in Game 2 was somehow insufficient for Cleveland to avoid falling down in a 2-0 series ditch.
The Cavs are greatly missing the days when they had Kyrie Irving. Irving stabilized the Cavs’ offense whenever James was on the bench and played sweet music with James when the four-time MVP was on the floor alongside him. Kevin Love has not been the Irving to LeBron in these playoffs.
To also say that he’s the Robin to LeBron’s Batman is equivalent to believing that asphalt goes well with pizza. But on Friday, facing elimination, Love has no option but to be just the perfect and effective sidekick to LeBron.