Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love played only five minutes and 22 seconds of Game 4 of his team's first-round playoff series with the Boston Celtics on Sunday, leaving the contest after injuring his shoulder in a battle for a loose ball with Boston's Kelly Olynyk:
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With just under 5 1/2 minutes remaining in the opening quarter, Love and Olynyk were scrapping for rebounding position after a missed 3-pointer by Boston's Jae Crowder. Olynyk latched onto Love's left arm as they ran away from the basket; after a couple of seconds of tangling, Love yelped in pain and instantly grabbed for his left shoulder. The referees whistled Olynyk for a loose-ball foul and Love sprinted straight off the court, back to the Cavaliers locker room.
Soon after Love exited the game, ABC's Heather Cox reported that the Cavaliers said he will not return to action. Team physician Dr. Richard Parker was examining the arm, which had already been iced and wrapped. At that point, Cleveland was just calling it a "left shoulder injury," pending further examination. After the Cavaliers' 101-93 win to finish off a four-game sweep and eliminate the Celtics, though, the team confirmed that Love had dislocated his left shoulder, and that his status would be updated after "additional examination, imaging and evaluation at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health" following the team's return to Ohio.
After the game, the head coaches for both teams downplayed the notion that Olynyk intentionally and maliciously went after after Love's shoulder:
Stevens on Love injury: “Can’t imagine there was any negative intent by Kelly, b/c that’s not kind of person he is, & you hope Love is OK."— Ben Rohrbach (@brohrbach) April 26, 2015
Blatt on Love injury: “I hope it wasn’t a play on purpose. I don’t think it’s in the character of Olynyk to do that. I hope not."— Ben Rohrbach (@brohrbach) April 26, 2015
Love, however, made it clear that he felt Olynyk meant to do the dirty work during a postgame chat with reporters during which he had his left arm in a sling:
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
It's awful tough to ascribe intent, but you can certainly understand Love's frustration. It seems clear that Olynyk trapped Love's arm to prevent him from reaching for the basketball, which is something that you see bigs do to one another all the time in the fight for a rebound, but is absolutely the sort of play on which bad things can happen. Whether or not Olynyk meant to hurt Love, he did something that's against the rules specifically because stuff like this can happen when you do it; the starting point might've been different, but the endpoint is that same.
Whether or not the league elects to penalize Olynyk for his role in the injury, with his team eliminated, the Celtics center won't miss any more games this season. We can't yet say the same for Love, who averaged 18.3 points, nine rebounds and three assists in 33 minutes per game through his first career playoff contests before leaving early on Sunday, and who — despite a down year in terms of his individual statistics — has been an integral piece of the Cavaliers' top-ranked offense:
So far in the playoffs, the Cavs have an offensive efficiency of 118.7 with Love on the court, 94.6 with him on the bench. Absurdly valuable— Conrad Kaczmarek (@ConradKazNBA) April 26, 2015
Even with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving there to bolster the offense, with sterner tests looming as the playoffs progress — a likely second-round matchup with the Chicago Bulls, a possible Eastern Conference finals tilt with the Atlanta Hawks, a potential NBA Finals bout with whichever heavyweight emerges from the Western Conference — a diminished Love would be extremely damaging to the Cavaliers' chances of advancing, and his absence could even prove fatal. There'll be an awful lot riding on the results of that MRI and, you'd suspect, a decidedly more somber tone on the Cavs' team charter than finishing off a 4-0 sweep would typically engender.
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