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How Kevin Love reignited himself against Toronto

It was no secret that Love’s play in the first round left more to be desired. Here’s how he turned it around.

NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Love did not play a good series against the Indiana Pacers. Even though his play in Game 1 against the Toronto Raptors was still sub-par by his own standards, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who says he did not play a good series.

A lot of different people or factors are getting a lot of credit for Love’s emergence in Game 2 of the second round and his strong play to finish the sweep.

  1. Tyronn Lue has been credited with implementing sets that force Kevin into the post with the ball and for sticking with Love through his struggles.
  2. LeBron James gets credit for being LeBron James and consistently putting his teammates in positions to succeed.
  3. George Hill is acknowledged for existing as a competent point guard, allowing Love to feast on switches in the 1-5 pick-and-roll.
  4. The Toronto Raptors are credited with being wholly incapable of not switching guards onto Love, which makes his life all too easy.

While all of this is fair, it seems to be the typical response for analysts to give credit to anyone except Kevin Love, who should get the most credit for his own play. Like he said, after Games 2 and 4, he “didn’t forget how to play basketball.” Let’s see what he started to do.

A major development that led to Love’s success against Toronto was that he started driving to the basket. In the regular season, he averaged over one drive per game, which fell to just one per game in the first round before increasing wildly to three drives per game against the Raptors.

What fans saw was that Jonas Valanciunas was too slow in space and Serge Ibaka was simply not good enough to defend Kevin Love when he got the ball on the perimeter with room to work.

Defenders have to respect someone who shot 41.5 percent from three on over five attempts per game this season and typically had to close out hard when he received the ball with an open shot opportunity.

There are not many bigs in the league that are capable of defending Kevin on the perimeter and in the post because it requires such a balance of speed and strength.

In this situation, a spaced floor offers Love a few choices: take the shot, which will likely be a pretty clean look, or drive past the defender. When he chose to drive, he found open lanes and created good offense for the Cavaliers. Watch him take advantage of Ibaka’s close out:

A drive from Kevin Love is also paired effectively with his obscenely lethal shot fake. The number of times that Love has faked a shot is almost as ridiculous as the frequency that opponents fall for it. When he gets a defender in the air (and decides not to draw the goofy shooting foul), he has shown the ability to drive past the man and get to open space.

Kevin Love also kick-started his ability to play in the post against Toronto. During the first round, Love was unable to do the single most important thing in basketball: put the ball in the basket. He made his name in the league by getting into the post and putting the ball in the basket. He started doing that once more against the Raptors.

After shooting 49.2 percent on field goal attempts out of post-ups in the regular season, Love shot just 23.8 percent in these situations during the first round. This changed as he shot 12-of-17 (70.6 percent) on post-up field goal attempts in the Toronto series and we saw a bit of a return to the dominant post-player Kevin Love was.

He hit his classic jump hook:

Love also hit this garbage and-one push shot, which he seems to hit whenever he is in rhythm and gets fouled:

As mentioned above, the Raptors helped Kevin Love get going by letting their guards get caught in switches. When you are 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, it can be easy to score in the post on someone who is 6-feet and 205 pounds or on someone who is 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds.

The former of those is Kyle Lowry, who got absolutely worked on this post-up (also one of the longest entry passes imaginable):

Another thing Love stopped doing in the first round was passing out of his post-ups. Just over 19 percent of his regular season post-ups ended in a pass, which was on par with the 20 percent of his post-ups that he passed out of in the second round. That stat was just 11.1 percent against Indiana.

While Love has never been known as an major facilitator out of the post due to limited vision, he is a solid passer and generally makes good decisions. It was not pretty in the first round, but we saw the real Love in the second round.

Hopefully, Kevin Love will be able to continue his strong play against Aron Baynes and Al Horford. That will take a huge load off of LeBron James’ shoulders in the coming series.

All post-up data are courtesy of NBA Stats Tracking data. For more Kevin Love dominance, click here.