Kevin Love will not play in Game 7 Sunday night after the Cavs placed him in the NBA’s concussion protocol Saturday afternoon, per an update from the team. Love bonked noggins with Jayson Tatum in the first quarter Friday night, and was pulled from the game immediately. The Cavs held off on placing Love in the protocol last night, but he reportedly displayed “concussion-like symptoms” during an evaluation prior to the team’s flight to Boston today, and the protocol mandates that players exhibiting concussion symptoms go through a multi-step process free of symptoms before they are eligible to return to action.
Love’s absence will be a blow for the Cavs. The Cavs’ net rating has been five points per hundred possessions better with Love on the floor during these playoffs, and he’s an important screener and floor spacer for an offense that can sometimes bog down with choppy, improvised playmaking when LeBron is off the floor, to say nothing of Love’s minutes now going to Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr., two guys with far less playoff experience and far less experience playing alongside LeBron James.
On the other hand, Love has shot incredibly poorly in this series—37.5 percent from the floor and 26.9 percent from the arc—and while the Cavs have generally been better with him on the floor in these playoffs, they’ve actually been far worse with him on the floor in this series. Their net rating is a whopping 14.9 points higher in the 128 minutes he hasn’t played against the Celtics, and the per possession improvement is seen on both ends of the floor. Those numbers are historical, and have almost nothing to say about how he might’ve fared in Game 7, but it’s also possible that this just isn’t a good matchup for Love.
So while this isn’t great news, basketball-wise, for the Cavs, it could be worse. Nance crashed backwards into LeBron’s leg in the fourth quarter Friday night, and it looked for a minute there like the best player in the world might be another injury casualty of the 2018 NBA season. That would’ve been a series-ender. The Celtics have chewed up Cleveland’s offense across three games in Boston, and now the Cavs will have to navigate that ferocious defense without their best stretch big. How the Cavs adapt to playing without Love Sunday night will likely determine which of these teams advances to the NBA Finals.