Kevin Love participated in a portion of the Cleveland Cavaliers' shootaround on Wednesday morning, raising hopes that the star forward was progressing through the NBA's concussion protocol, which he entered Sunday after taking an elbow to the back of the head during Cleveland's loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of the 2016 NBA Finals, quickly enough to return to the court for Wednesday's Game 3. Unfortunately for Cavs fans, those hopes were dashed Wednesday afternoon, when the Cavs confirmed that Love would not suit up for Game 3:
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Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (concussion) is listed as OUT for tonight's NBA Finals Game Three vs. the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Love will remain in the NBA concussion protocol under the direct supervision and oversight of team physician Dr. Alfred Cianflocco, Dr. Jeffery Kutcher of the NBA and Cavs head athletic trainer Steve Spiro. His status for Game 4 will be updated at the appropriate time.
Love entered the concussion protocol after taking an inadvertent elbow to the back of the head from Warriors forward Harrison Barnes during a scramble for a rebound with just over five minutes remaining in the second quarter of Game 2:
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.
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," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. "And then he went back on the floor for a second, and then we had to get him off the floor."
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Cavs issued a statement saying that Love "experienced dizziness after returning to play at the start of the second half," after which he was taken to the locker room for further examination. While the team said he "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," the follow-up exam did result in Cleveland placing Love in the protocol, ruling him out for the remainder of Game 2 and landing him on the injured list until such time as he can successfully complete the protocol's return-to-play criteria:
1. He must be without concussion-related symptoms at rest;
2. He must have been evaluated by a physician;
3. He must have 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 must have 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.
The Cavs were hopeful that the two full off days between Games 2 and 3 would allow Love enough time to recuperate fully, and return to the lineup without missing a game. They didn't, and now Cleveland, already in an 0-2 hole after a pair of convincing defeats at Oracle Arena, will have to topple a confident and dominant Warriors team without one of its top three players — albeit one who has struggled against Golden State on both ends of the floor during both the regular season and the first two games of the Finals, though he's far from the only Cav who can say that.
Veteran swingman Richard Jefferson, who has surprisingly been one of Cleveland's most effective players in the Finals thus far, donned a starter's jersey during the portion of Cavaliers shootaround open to the media, suggesting Lue will turn to the 35-year-old forward to take Love's place in the starting lineup. The lineup of Jefferson, Smith, LeBron James, Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving has shared the floor for just 31 minutes this season, according to NBAwowy.com, getting outscored by 10 points in that small-sample span.
While Jefferson may start the game in Love's spot, Cleveland will also likely have to rely on increased contributions from Channing Frye, who torched the Cavs' Eastern Conference competition but was limited by the Warriors' active, switching defense to just two points on two shots in 11 total minutes in Games 1 and 2. Despite clamor in some circles for Cleveland to go big against Golden State in an attempt to slow the pace down, dominate the offensive glass and muck the game up as the Cavs did in winning two games against the Warriors last year, it seems unlikely that Lue will turn back to hulking center Timofey Mozgov for more minutes; then again, with the all-over-but-the-shoutin' specter of an 0-3 deficit looming, it's all-hands-on-deck time for these Cavs, and everybody's got to be ready.
"It's going to be the next man up," James said Tuesday. "We're down 0-2, and we can't afford to look and say, 'Wow, Kev's not playing. What are we going to do?' It's next man up, because it's a must-win for us. So obviously his health is very important, but in the situation we're in now, we've got to stay confident. And whoever Coach decides to give the nod to got to be ready to go, and everybody else has to step up."
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