The Cavaliers jumped out to a 1-0 lead on the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.
BOSTON – Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love scored less than 10 points three times in the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs – five points against the Indiana Pacers and nine and five points against the Toronto Raptors.
“We’ll do a better job getting Kevin involved, getting him more touches,” Cavs coach Ty Lue said before the start of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics
Against the right team to exploit a mismatch for Love, the Cavs unleashed their power forward, who turned in one of the best playoff performances in his three seasons with Cleveland.
Love scored a playoff career-high 32 points – his first 30-point game in the playoffs – and added a game-high 12 rebounds in Cleveland’s 117-104 victory against the Celtics in Game 1 on Wednesday.
“As I mentioned to Ty last week and throughout these playoffs, it doesn’t matter to me if I’m getting five shots or 25 shots, I just want to win,” Love said.
James added: “I saw that in Kev this morning. I knew what type of game he was going to have.”
Latest NBA coverage:
Love, who made 9 of 10 foul shots, had his inside-outside repertoire on full display. He scored 11 points in the second quarter, most of them with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on the bench.
“I told him I was going to feature him, and he did a good job of carrying the load,” Lue said.
In the third quarter, Love went to his three-point shot, making 5 of 7 and had 18 points in the quarter. His three with 5:05 left in the third gave Cleveland an 88-60 lead.
“Just knowing him over the last three years, when it starts inside-out, that’s when his three-ball gets to working,” Lue said.
Lue didn’t want to reveal his game plan, but he knew which defenders would be assigned to Love, and he knew how to take advantage of the mismatches.
“We’ve been talking, and he’s been ready and tonight was a huge performance from him,” Lue said. “We needed that.”
That’s the luxury Cleveland has. It doesn’t need him to score 30 every night, not on a team with James and Irving. But his presence – just the threat of him scoring – makes Cleveland’s offense thrive.
In nine playoff games, the Cavs score 118.5 points per 100 possessions with Love on the court – just a tad less than James’ 118.8.
“I know I can impact the game whether it shows up in the stat sheet or not,” Love said. “That has allowed me to be comfortable out there on the floor, knowing that my mindset is really there – still being aggressive and making plays.”
At times, Love, who in 2015 sustained a playoff-ending shoulder injury against the Celtics in the first round, has been a conundrum on the Cavs, and he admitted it took time to figure out his role. It wasn’t easy coming from the Minnesota Timberwolves where he was the primary offensive option and top scorer. Most games in Cleveland, he is the third scoring option.
But it’s a third option who averaged 19 points and 11.1 rebounds during the regular season. And when the Cavs believe Love can exploit matchups, they go to him. Remember, he scored an NBA-record 34 points in the first quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 23.
“We want the mentality of Kevin from Minnesota, but his usage rate doesn’t have to be as high as Minnesota,” James said. “Obviously, we all know that he was a featured guy pretty much every possession going down the floor, and here that’s changed a little bit because we have other guys.
“But his mentality needs to stay the same as Minnesota, and as he continues to get even more comfortable and comfortable. Tonight was one of those instances where every time he got the ball, it was a small guarding him or somebody was in the post, and he was aggressive.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @Jeff Zillgitt.