It doesn’t matter who started it, or whose fault it is. The Cleveland Cavaliers are without Kevin Love for what seems like a couple of weeks, and will also have to be without J.R. Smith for the first two games of the conference semifinals, suspended for hitting Jae Crowder.
Smith says he didn’t intend to punch Crowder in the face. Kelly Olynyk suggests that it wasn’t intentional, the way he threw Kevin Love to the court with an armbar move and dislocated his shoulder. Sounds very believable. But enough with players trying to defend themselves. What’s important now is how David Blatt goes on without them.
One thing that comes to Blatt’s rescue, a bit, is the Milwaukee Bucks making things interesting against the Chicago Bulls. The series between these two teams now has at least one more game, maybe even two. It doesn’t help him when it comes to Smith, but he will gladly take any time he can buy for Love to get nurse his hurting shoulder.
The “solution” to Smith not playing is simple. Iman Shumpert, who came with Smith from the Knicks in the midseason trade, gets bumped to starter. He averaged 7 points per game in 29 minutes a night during the series with the Celtics. The most shocking part about his minutes is the offensive rating, as the Cavaliers are looking a lot better when he’s on the floor offensively compared to Smith’s minutes.
Shumpert, still, doesn’t offer the same kind of shooting that Smith does. He isn’t as gifted of a scorer, even if he can do a bit better on defense. Four games isn’t a huge sample size, but Shumpert isn’t someone who will be overwhelmed by extended minutes. The more worrying bit will be what’s left on the bench. Mike Miller, James Jones, Matthew Dellavedova and Joe Harris. Shawn Marion played in the lineup for a while this season in a BIG lineup, but that didn’t work out so well.
Marion might still be involved. The Cavaliers aren’t huge fans of the Mozgov-Tristan Thompson lineup frontcourt pairing, which means Marion might be back in business. There’s also the possibility of LeBron James playing as the power forward while Iman Shumpert and Mike Miller enter the lineup, but that leaves the Cavaliers very exposed against good rebounding teams like the Bucks and Bulls.
There’s no easy solution or quick fix to this unlucky turn of events. Smith has been a huge part of the Cavaliers’ turnaround midway through this season and Kevin Love, even when he isn’t accurate, helps the Cavaliers create spacing and stretch a defense, not to mention doing very well in the series against the Celtics, averaging 18.3 points with 9 rebounds and shooting 47.3% from beyond the arc in the three games before his shoulder injury.
One interesting tidbit about all of this is how remarkably close Love’s season is to Chris Bosh, who also had to give up points and possession when joining the Miami Heat, turning into a big man who stretches the floor and shoots from long range. He also got injured during the Heat’s 2012 title run and played a huge part despite the criticism. The Cavaliers wouldn’t mind to have that kind of ending as well to their story.