The Block was an iconic play, not just for legacy of Lebron James, but in the annuals of NBA history. It is up there with Larry Bird stealing the ball from an out-of-bound pass from Isiah Thomas during the 1987 Conference finals, as well as Michael Jordan stealing the ball from Karl Malone on the 1998 Finals. Each play defined the career of the superstar and transcended them into cult hero status (even if that’s obsolete for MVP calibre players).
But we do get caught up in what I like to call, “superstar moments”. We forget to analysis how role player’s defensive plays dictate the tempo of the game. These plays are integral to the success of a championship team. Especially when it comes from a player that has no history of defence plays.
So we need to talk about Kevin. Kevin Love. The 6’10 power forward out of UCLA.
Five years ago we were discussing who the best power forward in the league was. The enigmatic, brutally dominating Blake Griffin, or the finesse and rebounding force out in Minnesota. What both of these All Stars lacked, however, was a natural instinct to play defence. Kevin was more susceptible to the mistakes on that end of the floor, because of the lack of athletic ability. Something that Blake could conjure up at any moment to block a shot, here and there.
Kevin was never been known for his defence. Even though he is a ferocious rebounder, both offensively and defensively, he was still a liability in the post. That was during an era when power forwards and centre were still utilised in that position. However in the space and pace era, where the 3 point shot is overvalued, the pick and roll has become predominate. This means continuous switching from the pick setters on little guards. A new era of defensive players will have to be indoctrinated and ushered in.
On paper the flat footed and stoic Love would seem redundant on the defensive end in this era. His lack of athletic ability, which was stated earlier, would mean that he lacks two steps against smaller, agile guards. Whether it is the immensely savvy and majestic handles of a Kyrie Irving, or the blistering, destructive speed of a Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love should be at a disadvantage. Right?
Defence is about effort. Gregg Popovich has embedded that into his coaching philosophy. Play hard. Play like every possession matters. “Give me some nasty.” That’s why he is able to develop players like Danny Green, Jonathan Simmons and Bruce Bowen, into great NBA role players. And that is what Kevin Love has incorporated into his game.
The effort was best demonstrated during the NBA finals, in a key possession, guarding the 2 time MVP Steph Curry on the perimeter… The three point line to be more accurate. An area where Curry, not only excels in, makes professional basketball players of all sizes and skill sets, look like novices. It was here were we saw Kevin Love stay on his feet, and not become delirious from the dribbling proses of Curry. It was a historical play, in the same vain as the clutch 3 Ray Allen hit for the Heat in the 2012 Finals. He contested that shot like he was a white Kawhi Leonard. The result? Two things: a NBA Championship, and more importantly, a reinvigoration in the career of Kevin Love. That was the catalyst for the 2016-2017 NBA season, and more importantly, the 2017 NBA playoffs.
Now we have seen that same effort given throughout the 2017 NBA playoffs. The best example has been throughout the 5 games of the Eastern Conference Finals. During the series he averaged 1.2 blocks per game and was effective and efficient in keep Al Horford away from the basket, limiting him to shooting 45% from the field, when he averaged over 60% percent through the first two rounds. Love also has averaged 8.0 contested shots per game during the playoffs. Just to put that into perspective, Kawhi Leonard averaged the same through 12 games compared to Love’s 13. Love has also been putting himself in valuable positions to take charges, which we saw throughout the Boston series, and is averaging 0.15 charges per game during the playoffs.
We can see the effort dispensed by Love throughout the playoffs. Yes, he is working alongside Tristian Thompson, the workhorse of the NBA, but he has immersed himself with defensive effort, which has changed a lot of people’s perception on his game. This has made him an even more of a appreciated commodity in the ever changing NBA landscape.
|Post Defence||Hustle Plays||Perimeter Defence||Defensive Rebounding|
|Contested 2 point shots: 6.0 PG
Blocked shots: 1.2 BPG
|Deflections: 1.5 PG
Loose Balls Recovered: 1.9 PG
Charges Drawn: 0.15 PG
Screen Assists: 1.0 PG
|Contested 3 point shots: 2.0 PG||Total Defensive Rebounding Percentage: 31.5%
Total Defensive Rebounds per game: 53 out of 168
However the next challenge comes in the form of the most lethal team in NBA history. This team boasts 2 MVPs, 2 All NBA players and 2 former All Stars off the bench. Golden State is a behemoth, an offensive juggernaut. Will Kevin Love succeed coming off the screen to defend KD and Steph? Will he get into foul trouble with Draymond Green and Zaza? Maybe. Maybe not. But what we know for sure is that Kevin Love will put in maximum effort into defending. He will try to take a charge, scramble for loose balls and throw out his hands for a deflection. He won’t be able to stop any offensive player on GSW, but he may be able to toss a spanner into the methodical system known as the GSW playbook. If he can effectively do that; Lebron and Kyrie may be able to bring a chip back to the Land.
We need to talk about Kevin. Clutch defensive plays are a rarity in this league, especially in the Finals. But what’s even rarer, is the motivation it takes to become better at something inferior at.