When Kelly Olynyk grabbed Kevin Love's left arm and yanked the All-Star's shoulder from its socket on Sunday, it most certainly wasn't a clean play for the loose ball, resulting in a foul on the Celtics center.
But was it a dirty play? That has been the subject of much debate in NBA circles since the Cavaliers finished off their first-round sweep, especially once Love suggested Olynyk purposefully injured him.
Kevin Love: "I thought it was a bush-league play ... I have no doubt in my mind that he did it on purpose"
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) April 26, 2015
More Kevin Love: "That's just not a basketball play ... The league will take a look at it and it better be swift and just"
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) April 26, 2015
While Love's frustration is understandable — particularly upon learning he could miss a minimum of two weeks with the dislocated shoulder, per ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst — it's bold to advance a theory that an opposing player willfully sidelined someone for, quite possibly, an entire second-round series.
Olynyk definitely does not agree with that theory, telling the Boston Herald as much on Sunday night.
“That’s ridiculous,” Olynyk told the Herald last night. “I would never intentionally hurt Kevin or anyone else. He locked my arm up, I locked up his as we were fighting for a loose ball. You lock up arms all the time in this league.”
“I wish him a very speedy recovery, and I hope he can come back to help his team in the playoffs,” Olynyk said.
“I was definitely surprised (by what Love said),” he said. “In basketball, I don’t think anyone is trying to hurt anyone. For (Love), it’s very unfortunate. I know they’re trying to make a run right now.”
For what it's worth, Celtics coach Brad Stevens defended his stretch center, sharing what many who have been around the team for the past two seasons would say when it comes to the soft-spoken Canadian: "I can’t imagine there was any negative intent on Kelly; that’s not the type of person he is."
Likewise, Celtics teammate Evan Turner laughed at the notion Olynyk would purposefully hurt Love. "Literally, if you ask anyone in our locker room, Kelly can't box out to save his life," Turner told reporters in the aftermath of an ugly Game 4. "No joke. He boxes out teammates like that all the time in practice."
Meanwhile, Cleveland's LeBron James and Kyrie Irving came to their teammate's defense, agreeing with Love's sentiment that Olynyk's arm bar was "just not a basketball play." And as everyone inside TD Garden weighed in on the dirtiness of the tie-up, so too did several former NBA players on Twitter.
Absolutely intentional and absolutely should have been a foul. Did he mean to pull his arm out of socket? HELL NO! https://t.co/3pDuIry5Jm
— Malik Rose (@MalikRose) April 27, 2015
— Rick Fox (@RickFox) April 27, 2015
In the end, we're left where we started. The play was dirty in the sense that it wasn't clean, but to suggest Olynyk wanted to remove Love's shoulder from its socket is probably a bit of stretch. As the second-year Celtics big man told The Boston Globe on Monday, would we even be debating this if — as happens countless times over the course of every NBA game — he clutched Love's arm and didn't injure him?
"I’d probably get killed if I went to Cleveland right now. I don’t think if someone gave me their arm and I was running forward like that and locked up, I don’t think I could dislocate someone’s arm if I tried. I think it’s a real tough thing to do. Like I said before, it’s kind of ridiculous to say you intentionally meant to. I’d never intentionally hurt someone, him or anybody else for that matter. I don’t think anybody goes out trying to hurt anyone. I think it’s just real unfortunate. If you get tangled up and he doesn’t dislocate his shoulder, there’s nothing dirty ever said or anything. It’s just a foul. So I just really hope he can get back as soon as possible and help that team keep making a push."
Olynyk reportedly reached out to Love's camp and is open to apologizing "if the time is right and if someone thinks it's appropriate." And while Love awaits that phone call, Cavaliers teammate J.R. Smith anticipates word from the NBA front office on his availability for the team's second-round series against the Bucks or (more likely) the Bulls. He too claimed "there was nothing malicious about" a vicious elbow to Jae Crowder's head that knocked the Celtics forward to the ground and sprained his left MCL.
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