CLEVELAND (AP) — Kevin Love will play, but not start in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
The Cavaliers forward, who hasn’t played since sustaining a concussion in Game 2, was medically cleared to play in Friday night’s game against the Golden State Warriors. The team announced Love’s status about an hour before tip-off, shortly after he went through pregame drills.
Later, the team said Richard Jefferson will start again and Love will come off the bench for the first time since 2010, when he played for Minnesota.
Love arrived at Quicken Loans Arena at about 7:15 p.m., roughly the same time coach Tyronn Lue was holding his pregame news conference. Love then took the floor for a rigorous workout, shooting jumpers, working in the post against assistant coach James Posey and shooting free throws.
Earlier, he took part in the team’s morning shootaround, a sign he had made progress from his concussion.
Love sat out Game 3, and the Cavs barely missed him, rolling to a 120-90 win to trim Golden State’s lead to 2-1 in the series, which included a 33-point blowout by the Warriors in Game 2. In the first half of that game, the three-time All-Star was struck in the back of the head by Golden State’s Harrison Barnes while going for a rebound.
Love left briefly, returned to the game but became dizzy and took himself out in the second half. He was diagnosed with a concussion and has been slowly working his way back since.
With Love out, Lue went with a smaller starting lineup in Game 3, playing Jefferson at small forward and moving LeBron James to power forward. The decision worked well as the Cavs scored the game’s first nine points and Jefferson, who has come off the bench all season, finished with nine points and eight rebounds in 33 minutes.
The 35-year-old Jefferson has been a steadying force on and off the floor this season for Cleveland, which signed him to a one-year contract last summer. Jefferson’s selfless attitude has rubbed off on his teammates.
Jefferson said his mentality can’t change whether he’s starting or coming off the bench.
“You do the exact same thing every single day,” he said. “It’s called being a professional. Because you can not have the mindset on starting and then someone sprains their ankle on the first play of the game and now you’re forced to play 36 minutes. You have to have that `always ready’ mindset, if the coach needs you, if you’re not going to be ready if he needs you in the fourth quarter because of a lineup change or — you just have to stay ready. Starting or not starting, it’s always the same approach.”
Cleveland’s quick start — the Cavs jumped to a 19-4 lead — in Game 3 rattled the Warriors, who never recovered after winning Games 1 and 2 at home by a combined 48 points.
James said it’s vital for the Cavs to land the first punch and not let up against league MVP Stephen Curry and his teammates because the Warriors are capable of scoring points in bunches.
“The Warriors are really the toughest team to go against when you’re up,” James said. “When you’re up big on them, you’re really not up big. It’s almost like going against like the Green Bay Packers. If you’re up a couple touchdowns versus Aaron Rodgers, you just know that like, you can’t relax. Because one 60-yard bomb here and 70-yard connection here and now they’re right back in the game.
“And that’s what Golden State do. They’re never too far away from the lead or never too far away from when they’re down to get back into the game. So, you just keep playing.”
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