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Cleveland Cavaliers playbook: The malleable Kevin Love

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Against Joel Embiid, the Cavs used their star power forward in a different way.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

How the Cavaliers incorporate Kevin Love into the offense is routine. Early in the game, and then again in the third quarter, the Cavs get Love touches on his preferred left block and let him go to work.

So far this year, Love has been good too. For the season, he’s averaging 0.94 points per post-up possession, accounting for 21.2 percent of his possessions, per nba.com/stats. This production is about the same as what LaMarcus Aldridge is doing for the Spurs and what Joel Embiid is doing for the 76ers, although both of players post-up far more frequently than Love does.

On Monday against the 76ers, though, the Cavs did not post up Love and did not run the offense through him on the left block. Instead, they kept Love on the outside in hopes of pulling Embiid out of the paint. His first shot of the game — a missed three from the left wing — set the tone for the rest of the game:

Overall, Love took just three shots at the rim, making of those attempts This accounted of 25 percent of his shots. That’s down from an average a 40.5 percent of his shots on the season coming at the rim, per nba.com/stats.

The two times Love did score at the came in instance where an opportunity opened itself; this was not the Cavs force-feeding him or letting him try to back down Embiid. The first came on a nifty cut to the rim where he beat Embiid inside and adjusted his body to get his shot off at an angle where the 76ers center couldn’t swat it away:

His other make came when Embiid was out of the game, and the Cavs ran a Love-LeBron James pick and roll against a combination of Robert Covington and Amir Johnson, Philadelphia switches Covington onto Love, who scores with one dribble and pivot towards the rim. This year, Love has feasted on smaller defenders teams have tried to stick on him inside, and the result here is no different:

The one time the Cavs really went at Embiid in the pick and roll with Love and James saw the 76ers trap James, giving Love the ball inside and, for a moment, control of the offense. He has choices here — shoot, pass to a cutting Jeff Green or try to hit J.R. Smith in the corner with no defender in position to close out — in a 4 vs. 3 situation. Had Ben Simmons not do a great job of timing his shot defense just right, this might be an easy two points for Love:

Against Embiid, having Love take seven three-pointers without posting up makes a ton of sense. Posting up Embiid, and attacking him directly, is a black hole for most post players, particularly ones like Love who are giving up size and strength inside. But by getting him moving, the Cavs an attempt to nullify some of Embiid’s impact and still get Love quality looks.

Shooting 4-12, and just 2-7 from three, is not an ideal night for Love. Had he shot just a little bit better, this game may have been wrapped up even earlier. But the Cavs can live with the looks he got, and know he’ll probably shoot better next time against the 76ers, or another team that defends the Cavs this way. His malleability remains important.