As if the start of the 2016 NBA Finals wasn't going poorly enough for the Cleveland Cavaliers, they lost star forward Kevin Love midway through Sunday's Game 2. And his status for Game 3 is not yet known.
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Love went down hard after taking an elbow to the back of the head from Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes during a scramble for a rebound with just over five minutes remaining in the second quarter and the Warriors leading by nine:
Barnes came away with the rebound, and Love lay slumped in the paint under the Warriors basket, holding his head, as play continued. Draymond Green eventually drove to the basket for an and-one layup, nearly landing on the prone Love as he came down.
Despite the head shot and the lengthy stay on the floor before getting back up to his feet and heading back to the bench on his own power after being attended to by Cleveland's trainer, Love was not "removed from participation [to] undergo evaluation by the medical staff in a quiet, distraction-free environment conducive to conducting a neurological evaluation," as would be required if he was "suspected of having a concussion," according to the league's concussion policy. Instead, he would remain in the game, knocking down a 3-pointer off a feed from J.R. Smith on the next Cavaliers possession to get the deficit back to nine, and stayed on the floor for the balance of the second quarter, as Golden State headed into intermission with an eight-point advantage.
"I didn't even know what happened, but at halftime he showed no symptoms, he didn't talk about it," Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue said after the game.
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Love's second-half stay, however, would be short-lived. After missing a 3 on Cleveland's first trip of the third quarter and turning it over less shortly thereafter, Love appeared dazed during a defensive possession and took himself out of the game just two minutes and six seconds into the frame:
"When we came back out in the third quarter, you could see in a timeout he looked kind of woozy," Lue said. "And then he went back on the floor for a second, and then we had to get him off the floor."
He would not return, finishing with five points on 2-for-7 shooting with three rebounds, one steal and one turnover. The Cavaliers were outscored by eight points in his 21 minutes of floor time, and by 25 points in the remainder of the game without him, as the Warriors dominated Cleveland after the first quarter en route to a 110-77 victory that gave Golden State a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven NBA Finals.
At the start of the fourth quarter, ABC's Doris Burke reported that the Cavs had, in fact, placed Love in the NBA's concussion protocol following his early-third-quarter exit, a decision the team explained in a statement circulated shortly after the broadcast announcement:
Cavaliers forward Kevin Love experienced dizziness after returning to play at the start of the second half. He was taken to the locker room for further examination. The result of that exam is that he has now been placed in the NBA Concussion Protocol and will not return to play. Kevin did not exhibit any signs or symptoms during the first half, or at halftime, that would have caused him to be placed in the concussion protocol prior to now.
Love has since been cleared to travel and joined the Cavs on Monday's flight back to Cleveland, a team spokesman told the Associated Press, although his availability for Wednesday's Game 3 remains unclear.
It is curious, to say the least, that Love's rolling around on the floor holding his head and staying down for a longer-than-usual period after being elbowed did not constitute enough of a sign or symptom to put him into the protocol right then and there, before he played another 7 1/2 minutes of NBA basketball. Now that he is, though, the big question is how long Love — who has suffered a concussion before in his NBA career — will be sidelined before he can be cleared for a safe return to play.
The NBA's concussion policy stipulates that Love will not be allowed to return to participation on Monday — though the Cavs reportedly weren't planning on doing much besides flying back to Cleveland — and that "his physical and cognitive exertion [should be] limited as much as possible."
It also calls for Love to be "regularly monitored for 24 hours for the evolution of symptoms," not allowed to begin the "return-to-participation exertion protocol" until 24 hours after his injury, and prevented from returning to full participation until after:
1. He is without concussion-related symptoms at rest;
2. He has been evaluated by a physician;
3. He has successfully completed the NBA return-to-participation exertion protocol, which involves several steps of increasing exertion: from riding a stationary bike, to jogging, to agility work, to non-contact team drills, with the player needing to be symptom-free to move on to the next step;
4. A team physician has discussed the return-to-participation process and decision with the Director of the NBA Concussion Program, Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, with the final call coming from the Cavs' physician.
All of that, of course, leaves Love's status for Wednesday's Game 3 back in Cleveland very much in doubt. Any missed time would be a cruel blow for Love, who missed the last three rounds of the 2015 postseason due to a dislocated shoulder, and a damaging one for the Cavs, who can ill afford to lose key contributors and offensive weapons now that they find themselves in an 0-2 hole after being thoroughly dominated for most of the first two games of the series.
"Well, losing one of our top three players is always going to be a big impact," Lue said after the game. "But right now, he's in the concussion protocol, and right now he's just day-to-day."
And Love's clearance for travel is a step in the right direction toward potentially playing in Game 3.
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